Hundreds gathered at a Chicago chapel Thursday to pay tribute to fallen police Officer Ella French, a 29-year-old shot and killed in the line of duty when a traffic stop turned violent earlier this month.
The private service, held at the St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel, drew attendance from hundreds of officers and public officials, including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, CPD Supt. David Brown, former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, former police Supt. Garry McCarthy and many others.
The front lawn outside the church was covered with men and women in uniform from departments across the Chicago area, many waiting outside for hours on a hot August day to pay their respects.
Also in attendance was the father of Officer Carlos Yanez, French's partner who was critically wounded during the shooting and is continuing to recover in the hospital. He brought with him a T-shirt from his son, who asked that it be given to French because he wanted "a little bit of me to be with her."
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French's mother, Elizabeth French - escorted by Josh Blas, a third officer who was at the scene of the traffic stop the night French was killed and Yanez' father - stood before the crowded church with what she said was now half her heart as she thanked the many officers in attendance.
"I want to thank each and every one of you for your presence here today," she said. "Ella would be honored. I especially want to thank all the members of law enforcement present. Ella was so proud to be a member of your family. Every day you leave home to serve and protect family, friends and people you will never meet in your communities, towns and cities. Ella and I thank you for your service. God bless you all."
She ended her eulogy by sharing with the officers present a message she would often say to her daughter as she left for work.
"Be careful and be safe," Elizabeth French said.
French, a young officer who made a big impact during her short time on the force, was remembered during the service for her empathy, compassion and determination.
"She was loud, fun and outgoing," her partner Josh Blas, one of two officers with French during the traffic stop that took her life, said. "She always loved getting to know people and talking to them. She was bubbly and always smiling. She genuinely loved people."
Once a foster child who was adopted into her family, French dedicated her spare time to fostering dogs and helping animals to give back in a way that mirrored her own journey.
Speaking directly to her mother during his homily, Cardinal Blase Cupich recalled a conversation in which Elizabeth French described the empathy her daughter exuded not just in her work, but also in her life.
"Elizabeth, you told me when we met that Ella always understood herself as a work in progress, how her experience especially as a corrections officer with Cook County, made her a better human being because it helped her develop an empathy for others," he said. "It was her empathy that prompted her to rush a 1-year-old baby and her mother on her own to a hospital, something she no doubt was encouraged to do as she witnessed the example of her fellow officers. It was her ability to connect with others that taught her compassion, empathy and responsibility for others."
The streets outside the service flooded with squad cars and mourners as the church filled to capacity.
"We can only imagine how the tragic death of another colleague in the line of duty impacts you as you take up the daunting challenge of providing security and peace on our streets," Cupich said. "Her senseless killing once again sharpens the knowing anxiety you and your family members feel each day as you leave your home, wondering if you will return safely at the end of your shift."
Blocks away, the presence could still be felt as squad cars with flashing lights sat waiting. At a nearby day care center, signs hung outside reading "RIP Officer French. We love you."
The service was followed by a large procession to the crematorium.
French joined the department in April 2018, according to police officials. She is the first Chicago police officer to be killed in the line of duty since officers Conrad Gary and Eduardo Marmalejo were struck and killed by a Metra train while responding to a call of shots fired in Dec. 2018. She is also the first female officer to be killed in the city since 1988.
"During her short but courageous career, Officer French earned a Department Commendation, a Physical Fitness Award, and 14 Honorable Mentions," Police Supt. David Brown said in a release
French's brother, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, called her "the best sister" and described her as a "humanitarian" and the "epitome of a good Samaritan."
"My sister’s always been a person of integrity," Andrew French told the Tribune. "She’s always done the right thing even when nobody’s looking. She’s always believed in people and believed in doing the right thing... She’s always believed in taking care of people that can’t take care of themselves."
French was killed after she and her partner were shot during a late-night traffic stop in the city's West Englewood neighborhood.
Police said three officers stopped a car with three people inside near 63rd Street and Bell for expired plates.
When the officers approached the car, one of the vehicle’s occupants opened fire, according to authorities. French was shot in the head and her partner was also shot and remains in critical condition at a Chicago hospital.
Two brothers have since been charged in the shooting. A third person was arrested but never charged.