By Morgan Greene Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO — On Friday morning, a boy bolted up a lime green slide in a small park tucked away on a corner of the Southwest Side. Two others pumped their legs back and forth on swings, flying up into the air and holding on as tight as all the yellow-spotted leaves still clinging to their branches. A young girl smiled and ran past a newly minted sign: Irma C. Ruiz Park.
Thirty years ago, Ruiz, a Chicago police officer who “took care of everyone,” became one of the first female officers to be killed in the line of duty when a gunman entered a Near West Side school and shot at Ruiz, instantly ending the life of the beloved wife, mother of four and police partner.
A Chicago park in the Archer Heights neighborhood was officially renamed in her honor on Friday. More than a hundred friends, family, fellow officers — even the horse named after Ruiz — gathered for the dedication. And before and after the ceremony, Ruiz’s grandchildren played in her park.
“Wow. Look at everyone,” said Irma Ruiz-Collins, the late officer’s daughter, in front of the crowd. “This is amazing.”
“We hope the memory of, ‘Hey, I played at the Irma C. Ruiz park,’ will live on one day through kids and generations to come,” she said.
Ruiz-Collins spoke of her mother’s laughter, strength and lessons.
“When that light and that energy left, we thought, ‘How is our heart going to find life again, and light?’” she told those assembled.
Ruiz-Collins credited those who have kept her mother’s memory alive: the 100 Club of Chicago, which offers financial and other support to families of fallen first responders; city and park officials; and those who decided to name a school after Ruiz.
“One by one they help put on the switches,” said Ruiz-Collins.
She said she hopes the park honors the others affected by the tragedy: Greg Jaglowski, the police partner who was exchanged fire with the gunman and survived; the auto parts store workers John Van Dyke and Robert Quinn, who were shot and killed by the gunman; and the school custodian Arthur Baker, who made it back into the school before he died to warn others about the gunman.
“We hope to offer you light,” said Ruiz-Collins.
Ald. Ed Burke, 14th, also told those gathered for the event about how the threads of Ruiz’s story are woven through so many lives.
“Today, as Irma reminds us, the lights continue to be turned on,” he said. “I hope that youngsters like these who gather here to laugh and play and see this sign that will be here for generations, will ask, ‘Who was Irma Ruiz?’ And maybe their moms and dads will say, ‘Irma Ruiz was a brave woman.’”
Earlier in the program, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson talked about his own connection to Ruiz, who was killed in the line of duty just as he was starting out in the department.
“Two weeks after I hit the streets of Chicago,” he said. “I remember that day and I remember the pain I felt as a new cop, so I can’t imagine the unimaginable pain and grief that the family had to have felt that day and still feels. That hole will never be filled. But in some small way we hope that these things let you know that you will forever be part of the Chicago police family and we will, in fact, never forget.”
Jaglowksi, Ruiz’s partner who shot and fatally wounded the gunman, started to talk about how proud Ruiz would be of her family before stopping for a moment to take a breath.
“I thought I’d get past this first card at least,” he said.
“I know Irma to this day would be proud of the fact that we took on an assignment and we finished the assignment,” Jaglowksi continued. “And she paid the ultimate sacrifice, but I know today, and every day, she’d be proud.”
As the dedication went on, “Amazing Grace,” played by the bagpipers, carried over the crowd and cut through the rustling leaves. Ruiz’s husband and children looked on. The grandkids let loose a few red, white and blue balloons and watched them float up into the cloudy sky.
“Irma held off the rain,” Jaglowski told the Tribune with a smile.
A line from friend and fellow officer Dorothy Piscitelli’s eulogy seemed just as fitting as it did 30 years ago: “I can hear her saying: ‘Is all of this for me?’”