Hundreds gather for vigil honoring slain Chicago officer Ella French

Community members and police officers came together to grieve for French, who was remembered as courageous and compassionate

By Stephanie Casanova
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Robi Nalls wore all black to a vigil for Chicago police Officer Ella French on Wednesday evening. On the left side of her chest was a pin with a photo of her kids’ uncle, Eric Lee, another slain officer.

French was fatally shot Saturday night after a traffic stop for expired plates turned deadly. French’s partner continues to fight for his life in the hospital.

Two brothers, one of whom is charged with French’s murder, are being held without bond, and their mother was arrested Tuesday in a Chicago suburb after an anguished scene in which she allegedly kicked a hospital officer while demanding to see her wounded son.

Nalls said she knows what French’s family is going through. Lee was a Chicago police officer who was killed in the line of duty in 2001, she said. She named one of her sons, Torrey Lee Nalls, after him.

“It was 20 years ago, but it feels like it was just yesterday,” Nalls said. “And my heart goes out to her family because I know exactly what her family is doing right now, what they’re going through. We understand, we can empathize with them.”

Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday at the 22nd District Chicago Police station in the Morgan Park neighborhood, where many police officers, other first responders and city workers live. Some carried black and white American flags with a blue stripe across the middle or signs showing support for the police department.


Chaplain Kimberly Lewis-Davis, who has been with the department for 18 years, said holding the vigil allowed the community to come together.

“Today, as a community, we grieve. We grieve because of these senseless acts. We grieve because two officers are dealing with the fallout of gun violence,” she said. “We grieve because Officer Ella French paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

Lewis-Davis prayed with community members and spoke of French’s optimism and hope in her excitement to serve.

“As you mend our broken hearts back together, knit us as a community,” she said in prayer. “Let this be a time when we can grieve and grow from this tragedy. Let officer French’s life not be taken in vain, but that we may all be better from her light, and her service.”

Philip Cline, executive director of the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, thanked the third officer at Saturday night’s shooting, who fired back and stopped the shooter. Cline said a small part of everyone in the community died when French died.

“We did not lose just an exceptional police officer,” he said. “We lost a remarkable person, one with courage and compassion. One who made a positive difference every day of her life.”

The Rev. Tom McCarthy thanked police officers and other first responders for their service to the city, to applause from the crowd.

McCarthy asked the community to remain strong and to continue loving one another and working to change their part of the world, to never give up.

“None of us want to be here. We all want to be somewhere else,” he said. “But we’re here and we’re here to celebrate a life. And we’re here to pray for peace, and an end to senseless violence.”

Tina Walker, Nalls’ sister who was with her at the vigil, echoed McCarthy’s sentiment, and said Chicago needs to come together to address gun violence.

“All of us are part of this in the city. We have to all come together to find a solution,” she said. “But in the meantime support our officers who are trying to protect us the best that they can.”

Walker and Nalls said they hope Chicago’s leaders can come together. Now is not the time for “finger-pointing,” Walker said referring to the fractious relationship between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Police Department.

Walker and Nalls said they still have family members working for the Chicago Police Department. Nalls’ daughter, Rori Iann Nalls, works in District 7, which includes Englewood, where Lee was killed 20 years ago.

Rori Iann Nalls followed in her father and her uncle’s footsteps. Her father, Nalls’ ex-husband, Terance Nalls, is a detective with the Chicago Police Department.

“They put their life on the line for us, for the citizens, and they get out to clean up the community and keep the people in that community safe, and things of this nature happen unfortunately,” Nalls said. “So it was gut wrenching, as a parent, it’s really gut wrenching as a citizen.”

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