‘She was the most beautiful person’: Mourners honor slain officer Ella French at wake

Hundreds of officers and community members waited in line to pay their respects to Ella French, who was killed during a traffic stop earlier this month


By Madeline Buckley
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Uveeda Jones came to the wake for slain Chicago police Officer Ella French straight from work, still in teal scrubs and determined to make it to the chapel.

Jones, who is a nurse, worked with French at the Cook County Jail when French was a correctional officer.

“Oh my god, she was the most beautiful person,” Jones said.

Chicago police and firefighters salute as the body of slain Chicago police officer Ella French is carried into the St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel for a funeral service Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in Chicago. 
Chicago police and firefighters salute as the body of slain Chicago police officer Ella French is carried into the St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel for a funeral service Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in Chicago.  (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Jones was among hundreds of mourners who waited in line Wednesday afternoon at St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel to pay their respects to French, who was shot and killed during a traffic stop on Aug. 7. Her partner was seriously injured.

During her time as a corrections officer, French treated the inmates compassionately and made Jones’ job as a jail nurse easier, she said.

Jones smiled, remembering a time when she asked French, who was vacationing in the Caribbean, to bring back a specialty liquor sold on the islands. When French returned, she gave Jones the bottle and refused to let her pay for it.

The line, containing uniformed officers and civilians, spanned at least half a block before snaking into the parking lot. An electronic sign placed on the lawn read: “Thank you for your service.” The sign rotated to show a photograph of French.

Blue ribbons were looped around the trees surrounding the property, and an American flag fluttered over Western Avenue, hanging from the ladder of a Chicago Fire Department truck.

The line grew as the afternoon wore on, with mourners sometimes carrying bouquets of flowers. In one case, an officer brought in a large, ceremonial CPD badge inscribed with French’s name.

Community members who never knew French were among those who waited in line.

 

Michael Gallagher, 64, walked toward the line with a book under his arm, as he expected a long wait. Gallagher is a retired teacher, and he said police officers sometimes helped him out in school.

“Police sacrifice a lot,” he said. “They put their lives on the line.”

Rolland Young, 69, came from Chinatown hoping to offer condolences. He has a sister who works in law enforcement, and wanted to pay his respects.

“I felt bad she had to go so early,” he said.

A woman with a son who is an officer who works in French’s district walked toward the chapel with a friend. The woman, who only wanted to use her first name, Darlene, said she immediately turned on the radio when she heard two officers were shot that night. Her son, though, texted her to let her know he was OK.

“It’s hard being a mom,” Darlene said.

French worked as a Chicago police officer since April 2018. She was the first Chicago police officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty since Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office in 2019.

French and her partner were shot while conducting a traffic stop on three people in a vehicle just after 9 p.m. near West 63rd Street and South Bell Avenue in the Englewood neighborhood, police said.

One of the suspects was also shot after at least one of the officers returned fire, according to police.

French’s partner, Officer Carlos Yanez Jr., was shot in the eye, brain and shoulder, according to a GoFundMe fundraiser organized by family. He is facing a long recovery and the possibility of a lifelong disability. The Tribune confirmed the veracity of the fundraiser with a spokesperson for the company.

“He witnessed things he could never understand. But it never hardened him,” according to an account on the GoFundMe fundraiser. “He continued to take pride in getting guns off the streets and treating everyone he interacted with respect. He felt in his heart he was reducing gun violence and that is why he weathered the challenges of being a Chicago Police Officer in such a challenging district.”

In a video provided to the Tribune Wednesday by his sister, Yanez thanked people for their support, prayers and donations. He spoke softly in the video while laying in a hospital bed.

“I love you all,” he told supporters.

Prosecutors charged two brothers in connection with the shooting. Emonte Morgan, 21, is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons charges. Eric Morgan, 22, faces weapons charges as well as a count of obstruction of justice. Prosecutors alleged that Emonte Morgan shot the officers, then handed the gun to his brother, who ran to a nearby yard where he was held by residents until police arrived.

Praise for French’s police work has poured in from the community since her death, while the slaying ramped up tension between Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and rank-and-file police officers. In a widely reported incident, a group of officers turned their backs on Lightfoot when she visited the hospital the night of the shooting.

French’s funeral service is planned for 10 a.m. Thursday, also at St. Rita.

©2021 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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