Hundreds of Chicago, Cook County, State and federal officers filled the cavernous Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago on Monday to pay their respects to an officer who was shot in the head more than seven years ago.
Officer Joseph Airhart never recovered from the shooting, which occurred in August 2001, but his family never gave up hope. Turning to his elderly parents who never left their son's side after he was shot in the head leading a team into a South Loop apartment, the police chaplain said, "Everyone of us remembers that day seven years ago. My God, what a seven years you've put in."
Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis said of Airhart, "It was not the way that Joe was so senselessly attacked that made him unique. It was the way in which he lived that set him apart."
Airhart had volunteered to lead a team into the South Loop apartment to capture a robbery suspect who was holding hostages.
"He was an exceptional son," said Mayor Richard M. Daley. "You know that.
"On behalf of the people of the city of Chicago, I thank you for your service, your valor and giving your life to the people of the city of Chicago."
Airhart died during an exceptionally violent time in the city of Chicago, with four officers' funerals in the past six months, and 447 murders so far this year -- a murder rate that is the highest in the nation.
"It's a stark reminder of the violence and the danger they (police officers) face every day," Weis said.
Daniel Salley, who was convicted of shooting Airhart, was sentenced in 2006 to life in prison plus 132 years.