Successful campout honors fallen officer

September 4, 2010 (CHICAGO)

When he was killed during a robbery attempt back in May, Wortham had been working to help reclaim Cole Park from encroaching violence.

Two spring shootings in the park had shaken residents and led officials to take down the basketball rims in an effort to stave off further trouble. Friday night's campout was meant to start changing all that.

Sleeping under the stars and roasting 'smores' is an experience that many kids have grown up with, but for most of those camping out overnight in the Chatham neighborhood's Cole Park, it was a new experience --the kind that residents hope to make more commonplace.

"The main reason we are here tonight is because we want you to feel safe in this park at all times. We want you to come here and have fun," said Thomas Wortham, Officer Wortham's father.

Before being shot down during an attempted robbery last spring, Officer Thomas Wortham was on a mission to do just that. And so Friday night his family, friends and fellow police officers took on that responsibility. Families set up their tents, played basketball and grilled.

"I know he would have been so pleased to see that there were people in the community who didn't give up, and picked up the mantle and are continuing to make the place the kind of place where he grew up," said Carolyn Wortham, Officer Wortham's mother.

"It's important for these young men and women to see these officers as people, not someone wearing a star, but as people," said Chicago Police Dept. Supt. Jody Weis.

The campers packed up their tents and were on clean-up patrol Saturday morning. More than 100 people spent the night in the park in a show of neighborhood unity.

For the children and for their parents, it was a fun, but also a comforting experience.

"Tonight means the police are watching me, and I'll be safe, and everyone else will be safe too," said Jonathan Pittman, 13-years old.

Also among those out leading the camping activities were Officer Wortham's military family. A former roommate of his in the Wisconsin National Guard said Friday last night that just because the officer was stolen, his ideals were not.

ABC7 is told by the police department that they are so happy with how things turned out with the campout that they're hoping to make it an annual event and hopefully extend it to other parks around the city.

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