With Bridgeport draped in blue Saturday to honor slain Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer, the priest presiding over the funeral Mass likened the high-ranking officer’s alleged killer to a leper and blamed the commander’s death on a broken legal system.
“Paul did not give his life. His life was taken,” said the Rev. Dan Brandt, who serves as the Chicago Police Department chaplain. “He fought for his life, and it was stolen by a four-time convicted felon.”
Bauer, 53, was fatally shot Tuesday after he thrust himself into the pursuit of a felon carrying a gun outside the Thompson Center, authorities said.
Shomari Legghette is being held without bond on charges of first-degree murder of a peace officer, armed violence, unlawful use of a weapon by a felon and two counts of possession of a controlled substance. According to prosecutors, Legghette’s extensive criminal history includes convictions in two drug cases, a gun offense, a misdemeanor battery and an armed robbery in the late 1990s in which he and a co-defendant robbed two people at gunpoint before leading police on a high-speed expressway chase. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison for that offense.
In a hard-line homily, Brandt likened Legghette to a leper, saying he should have been segregated from society long before the shooting. Jesus had compassion for lepers, but they were still kept from the public during biblical times, he said.
Legghette, Brandt said, “was one who should have never been out in society but was because of a broken system.”
The comment drew strong applause and a collective “amen” from mourners watching from an overflow room in the basement of Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church.
The rest of the funeral — the city’s first for a slain police officer in six years — followed in a more traditional vein, with speakers paying tribute to Bauer’s service and sacrifice. He was remembered as an unassuming kid from Gage Park who wanted to protect his city, an understanding supervisor who cared about the people under his command and a high-ranking official who remained a patrolman at heart.
Indeed, Bauer, who had long ago been promoted above the riskier responsibilities of a street cop, had no official obligation to enter the scuffle with Legghette, authorities said.
“Those who served under him felt like they served alongside him,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a eulogy that often left the hard-boiled politician struggling to maintain his composure.
The two-hour service included several personal stories about Bauer, whose dedication to his family and community has been well-documented in the days since his death. He walked his daughter to school each day, made sure wounded veterans had the best spots for viewing the annual Air & Water Show and declined to attend his own promotion ceremony because he didn’t like the spotlight.
A few days before his death, he purchased a snowblower so he could clear the sidewalks on his block.
“He was a man of faith, and he lived like a man of faith,” said Capt. Mel Roman, who worked closely with Bauer at the Near North District.
Rev. Brandt said he last saw Bauer a few days before his death at special Mass in memory of fallen police officers. Bauer did one of the Bible readings that morning because his 13-year-old daughter, Grace, who typically handled the duties, had a sore throat that day.
On Saturday, the remarkably composed teen gave the first reading at her father’s funeral. She read from the Book of Isaiah, speaking in a clear, strong voice.
“Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you,” the passage reads. “I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.”
After the reading, Grace returned to the side of her mother in the front pew. The two leaned on each other so completely, their heads touched.
Behind them, police officers from across North America filled the massive sanctuary. Nearly 300 of the uniformed police alone came from the Near North District that Bauer commanded. Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police also attended in tribute to Bauer’s former role as commander of the city’s mounted patrol unit.
The public was invited to attend Bauer’s wake Friday, but the funeral was limited to law enforcement officers, family, friends and dignitaries, a police spokeswoman said. The service brought Emanuel and his political adversary Gov. Bruce Rauner together in the front pew, with both men offering eulogies to one of the highest-ranking Chicago police officers ever to be killed in the line of duty.
Superintendent Eddie Johnson and former Chicago police First Deputy Superintendent John Escalante, Bauer’s friend since childhood, also spoke during the service. Johnson choked back tears toward the end of his eulogy as he expressed his condolences on behalf of a “heartbroken Chicago Police Department.”
After the funeral, Johnson told reporters that he would like to see a building named in Bauer’s memory.
“Paul Bauer was great guy and it’s our responsibility to make sure no one ever forgets his sacrifice,” Johnson said.
Johnson declined to discuss Legghette, refusing to say his name.
“That person shouldn’t have been out there in the first place. But we’ll talk about him another day,” Johnson said. “Today is about Paul Bauer.”
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