For the seventh time in a month, a police officer had been shot to death.
The latest was 52-year-old Lieutenant Charles Joseph Gliniewicz of the Fox Lake Police Department in Illinois, who had radioed that he was engaging in a foot pursuit in response to suspicious activity just before 8 a.m. Tuesday.
Gliniewicz had then fallen out of radio and cellphone contact. He was found mortally wounded in a marshy area, stripped of his gun and equipment. He was a gung-ho SWAT instructor and Army veteran known as “GI Joe” to many, just “Joe” to his family. He left a wife and four sons, the youngest still in school.
“#4’s first day back to school and his first class is drivers ed…UGHHHHH...LOL,” the elder Gliniewicz had written in an August 19 Facebook post.
Residents were advised to stay inside as an alert went out for three male suspects, two white and one black. SWAT teams, helicopters, and canine units joined the search of the surrounding area. The radio crackled as a suburb became a place of fear.
“I have another suspicious vehicle… I have a 911 hang-up… Report of an open door.”
With the approach of the evening rush hour, a commuter train was scheduled to make the trip from Chicago before sundown turns that city into a place of nightly danger. The police dispatch reported that the train would not be stopping in Fox Lake, presumably to keep the passengers out of harm’s way and to prevent the suspects from trying to board it.
“There are a lot of officers on the track at this time,” a supervisor cautioned.
As the hunt for the cop killers continued, the rest of us were left to search ourselves for something we might do to curtail the gun insanity that claims victim after victim after victim, cops, and civilians. We have gone in recent days from the killing of a 9-year-old girl as she did her homework on her mother’s bed in Ferguson, Missouri, to the murder on live TV of a reporter and a cameraman outside Roanoke, Virginia, to the assassination of a deputy as he was filling up his patrol car at a gas station in Harris County, Texas.
And now there was GI Joe Gliniewicz. His Facebook page made clear that he adored his wife and his sons. And he was a “man’s man” in the old-school sense, so determinedly fit that he delighted in grueling Spartan endurance races even in his 50s. He had founded and continued to run the department’s Explorer program for youth.
His page also indicated that he had not been one simply to shrug off the anti-police rhetoric that followed the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island. He posted one missive reading, “Prayers to Our Family in the St. Louis Area” and a photo of a T-shirt reading “I can breathe because I don’t break the law.”
His response to “Black Lives Matter” was a post declaring “Blue Lives Matter.” He suggested that his political views were way to the right when he posted a drawing of President Obama burning the Constitution.
With these posts, he seemed to represent one side of a chasm, the other represented by protesters such as those who rocked the streets of Ferguson and trooped through New York City.
Yet if Gliniewicz had been one of the Ferguson cops who responded when 9-year-old Jamyla Bolden was shot while doing her homework last month, he no doubt would have fought just as hard to save the child’s life. He no doubt would have sounded just as grief-stricken as did the Ferguson cop who spoke at the girl’s funeral on Saturday, recalling how he had cradled her, telling her “hold on, hold on” until the paramedics took over.
“I watched the ambulance speed away, and I felt lost,” Ferguson Officer Greg Casem remembered, speaking to the child now in her coffin. “You have touched the heart of the entire nation.”
Indeed, when Gliniewicz of Fox Lake recently applied to become the new chief of police, he had spoken about the importance of improving relations between the police and the populace.
“Just received the ‘Thanks but No Thanks’ letter,” he posted on July 25 after someone else was chosen. “I wish whomever they selected the best of luck as they take command of a REALLY GOOD POLICE DEPARTMENT in my home town community. Perhaps those that conducted the interview will take some of the community policing ideas and use them.”
He added: “feeling optimistic.”
Commenter after commenter agreed that it was the department’s loss not to have chosen him.
“The fates have big plans for you,” one wrote. “Finding out what those plans are is all part of the adventure!”
All of this was in a suburban town of just 10,000 that is a comfy train ride away from the daily carnage of Chicago, where homicides are up 20 percent this year. Other cities are up even more. Fox Lake had reported no homicides at all. The overall crime rate there is roughly half the statewide average.
But in this country of guns, no place is safe, not when you are a little girl doing your homework on mommy’s bed, not when you are a TV news crew doing a light chamber of commerce feature, not when you are a suburban cop stepping from your car to investigate something suspicious on a weekday morning.
Gliniewicz’s foot pursuit ended with a marshy spot in Fox Lake suddenly becoming the most dangerous possible place even for such an experienced and fit police officer.
He was left as dead as Deputy Darren Goforth of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Texas and Police Officer Henry Nelson of the Sunset Police Department in Louisiana and Senior Trooper Steven Vincent of the Louisiana State Police and Deputy Carl Howell of the Carson City Sheriff’s Office in Nevada and Police Officer Thomas LaValley of the Shreveport Police Department in Louisiana and Police Officer Sean Bolton of the Memphis Police Department in Tennessee, these just in the past month.
As night fell, the search for Gliniewicz’s killers continued. Forty canine teams were now said to be working. Heat sensors were being deployed. Cellphones were pinged and tracked. The voices of brother and sister cops kept crackling on the radio.
“We have a positive sighting… the tree line… We’re going to get some people to flush them out… Air One is on the way now.”
“That is an old sighting.”
”Continue your search.”
Two white males and a black male were detained but were quickly ruled out as suspects. There was another report of an open door.
“There are pit bulls, but they’re friendly.”
One call concerned what would have been the kind of crime to expect in Fox Lake had gun insanity not reached even there.
“Someone walking in his yard, took some tomatoes.”