By Jeremy Gorner and Anna Spoerre Chicago Tribune
He was hailed as a hero and a light for the city of Chicago, but the most touching tribute during Saturday’s funeral for fallen police Officer Eduardo Marmolejo came from his oldest daughter.
“Hi, Dad, I miss you so much,” Rebeca Marmolejo said through tears at St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel, where a day earlier services were held for Marmolejo’s partner, Officer Conrad Gary. The two were struck and killed by a train while pursuing a suspect Monday in an area near 103rd Street and Dauphin Avenue on the Far South Side.
“I have so much to say and now there’s no time,” Rebeca, 15, said. “Not to hug or ever see you again breaks my heart into a million pieces. You always had faith in me, and that kept me going.
“Now that you’ve clocked out, it’s my turn to cover the shift,” she continued, struggling to keep from crying.
“He taught me the smallest actions make the biggest impact,” Rebeca said, concluding her remarks in the packed church by urging everyone to “be kind and live with no regrets.”
The crowd answered with a standing ovation.
Earlier, Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson remembered Marmolejo, also known as “Lalo” to his friends and family members, as a “humble man” who had put himself “in harm’s way to protect all of us.”
“Humble people are giants,” he said, adding that, “Eduardo was an exemplary officer” whose “selflessness and sense of duty he displayed early this week.”
Addressing Rebeca and Marmolejo’s two other daughters, Johnson pledged, “We will begin healing with you. … You are not alone.
“Your dad was a hero,” Johnson said. “Know that he is looking down. … You’re going to have an entire department as your brothers and sisters.”
Johnson also noted Marmolejo’s experience as an emergency room technician at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn and how he received several Police Department awards, even though he had been a Chicago police officer for only 2 1/2 years. Through the department, Marmolejo had already received four honorable mentions, a physical fitness award and a commendation.
The superintendent drew laughter from the crowd when he talked about Marmolejo’s childlike sense of humor, describing videos that he would shoot of his dog — a pit bull mix named Champ — and send to his wife, siblings and other relatives.
“Lalo was so impressed with Champ that every single day,” Johnson said, “this video, every single day, was a video of Champ pooping.”
But Johnson’s tone became more somber when he addressed Marmolejo’s colleagues from the Calumet District, where the officer was assigned. Marmolejo and Gary are among five officers who have died this year while at work in the district. Two other officers died by suicide and one died after she collapsed at the district’s police station.
“It’s been an especially difficult year for you,” Johnson said. “But just know this, every time you pull out of that parking lot at 727 E. 111th St., Officer Marmolejo and Gary will be riding with you.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, following Johnson to the podium, said the memory of Marmolejo “has the power to light up the city. … He became a hero to the city.”
In high school, Marmolejo met his future wife, Maria, who on Saturday took her place at the front of the church as a widow.
“He was the type of husband who would send flowers, just because,” Emanuel said, speaking as many did of the couple’s lasting love for one another.
Marmolejo also learned how to do his daughters’ hair so he could help them get ready for school on days his wife worked early shifts, said Emanuel, who didn’t know Marmolejo personally.
Officer Andres Lizarzaburo met Marmolejo while they were recruits at the police academy. It was there Marmolejo earned the nickname “Sarge” because he was always offering advice and trying to help his classmates do better, Lizarzaburo said.
Marmolejo was humble with a sense of humor “like no other,” and even after the academy, he remained Lizarzaburo’s role model.
“He was what we all aspire to be when we have a family and kids of our own,” Lizarzaburo said. “You were my boy, you were my big brother I never had. The brother I could look up to.”
Buttons with a photo of Marmolejo shined like small beacons of light pinned to each officer’s chest as the sun reflected down on the rows of men and women lined up to offer a final salute as the casket carrying Marmolejo’s body was once more placed in the hearse and taken away.
Before the funeral, which drew more than 2,000 mourners, got underway, officers saluted and family members held onto one another, some silently weeping, as the hearse carrying Marnolejo’s body arrived at the Southwest Side church around 11 a.m.
“Officers, attention,” a commander shouted.
Marmolejo, 36, and Gary, 31, are among four Chicago police officers killed in the line of duty this year. Samuel Jimenez, 28, was gunned down on Nov. 19 at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center on the Near South Side. Cmdr. Paul Bauer, 53, was fatally shot while chasing a suspect outside the Thompson Center in the Loop on Feb. 13.
Brendan Kiefer, a good friend of Marmolejo, also shared stories with mourners of their good times growing up, about how they worked together in their teens at a Brown’s Chicken restaurant at 61st Street and Pulaski Road and how they were “young and extremely dumb,” especially one time when they headed to a party in the suburbs.
Marmolejo got pulled over by police with “open containers,” a term commonly used for alcohol, in his car, Kiefer said. All of his friends, Kiefer included, initially thought Marmolejo was going to jail and needed help getting released. Instead, Marmolejo showed up to the party a little later, a sigh of relief of all his friends.
When everyone asked how he managed to get out of trouble, according to Kiefer, Marmolejo’s response drew intense laughter within the church: “I just made up this sad story and told them all I want to do is be a police officer.”
Kiefer got more laughs when he recalled how Marmolejo “managed to win the costume contest at his own Halloween party every single year.”
The funeral ended with a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” outside the church as mourning officers lined up and saluted. A bugler also performed taps, which is also played at military funerals, and cars lined up for about a block along 77th Street in a procession for the hearse, en route to the cemetery.
“His life stands as a testament to the power of hard work in the pursuit of big dreams,” Emanuel also said, referencing Marmolejo’s journey from a small town in Mexico to Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood as a child. “He wanted to bring honor to their family, he wanted to bring honor to their name, he wanted to bring honor to the sacrifice they made walking through a desert to a better life in America, in Chicago.”
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