Gary cop shot to death; ‘person of interest,’ two others in custody
Jeffrey Westerfield (Gary Police)
GARY, Ind. (Sun-Times Media Wire) -
Police Sunday afternoon took a “person of interest” into custody after the Sunday morning shooting death of a veteran Gary, Ind. police officer who was found dead in his patrol car, police Chief Wade Ingram Jr. said.
The person’s identity was not immediately available because the person had not yet been charged, the Post-Tribune is reporting.
A suspect was taken to Methodist Hospitals Southlake with a gunshot wound to the leg, Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said Sunday afternoon.
Police raided a house in the 2600 block of Jackson Street about 3 p.m. and took three people into custody, including the person of interest. Buncich said the two other individuals have been taken in for questioning.
The sheriff said more details would be announced later Sunday.
Jeffrey Brady Westerfield, 47, a Gary resident and father of four, was found in his car at 26th Avenue and Van Buren Place after a citizen called the dispatch center at 5:45 a.m., Ingram said at a press conference earlier in the day.
Sunday was Westerfield’s birthday. He had been with the department since Aug. 29, 1995, Ingram said.
Ingram said the family had been notified, and that Westerfield had “four lovely daughters.”
Police were unsure whether Westerfield was specifically targeted. They were uncertain as to how many times Westerfield was shot, but bullet shells were recovered, Ingram said.
Ingram said Westerfield had responded to a call in that area about a couple of hours before he was killed. He said he believes the call was for shots fired. He did not know the last time Westerfield made contact with anyone else.
A local resident who noticed the car shortly before 6 a.m. and that Westerfield was not responsive called police, Ingram said.
Patrolman Daniel Perryman discovered the scene about 5:50 a.m.
Westerfield was pronounced dead at 6:36 a.m. of a gunshot wound, and his death was ruled a homicide, according to the Lake County Coroner’s office.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson vowed that the city would use every legal measure to find Westerfield’s killer.
“We will do everything in our power to make sure Officer Westerfield did not die in vain,” she said several hours before the person of interest was taken into custody.
The Lake County Sheriff’s Department is taking the lead on the case. Ingram said the Major Crimes Task Force and Indiana State Police are also assisting. Agents from several federal departments, including the ATF, FBI, DEA and U.S. Marshals have also offered their help.
Off-duty Gary police and even some on vacation rushed to the area to help in the investigation.
About 8:15 a.m., Gary SWAT team members were preparing to launch an operation in the area near the shooting. Gary Fire Department medics were asked to stand by.
Ingram said his department is in “deep mourning.”
“They are taking it extremely hard,” the chief said.
The last Gary police officer killed in the line of duty was Patrolman Benjamin Wilcher Jr., who died in August 2007 when his car crashed during a pursuit. The last Gary officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty was Dorian Rorex, who was killed in 1998 while pursuing a drug suspect. That killing occurred near the 2500 block of Polk, which is just about four blocks from where Westerfield was killed.
Councilwoman Kim Robinson, D-5th, who lives within walking distance of the scene, said the shooting was senseless.
“I know Jeff ... anybody out here putting their lives on the line, and to have it taken so senselessly is a huge concern,” Robinson said. “It could be some young kid on a dare, so then you throw one life away and another becomes worth not much anymore. And for what?”
Robinson worked with Westerfield when she was a probation officer. She said he was a happy family man.
“He loved his job,” she said.
Freeman-Wilson said he was also personable with his fellow officers.
“I know he loved his job but he also loved his other officers,” she said.
Ingram said that as of 10 days ago, homicides in the city were down 54 percent compared with last year. But Westerfield’s death was the second homicide in Gary this weekend.
“It’s discouraging,” Freeman-Wilson said, noting that an officer’s killing can be especially concerning to citizens.
She also called it a “blow” to recent efforts the city has taken to fight crime. However, she said the fact that Gary has had long periods of time between homicides shows the city can fight the violence.
“We know that we can push back on this because we have,” she said.
Ingram noted the timing of Westerfield’s death, after the shooting death of an Indianapolis police officer Saturday.
“There’s a lot of gun violence,” he said.
Sam Abegg, president of the Gary Fraternal Order of Police, said he was shocked by the news.
“It’s surreal,” he said.
Abegg worked with Westerfield for five years when he was in patrol and said everyone loved working with him.
“He was someone you wanted to have there with you,” Abegg said.
Officers are sad but also angry, he said. Although officers face risk no matter what, he said, the city’s low staffing of officers doesn’t help. Ingram said the city is authorized to have 246 officers but currently employs somewhere in the low 230s.
“It shouldn’t have come to this,” Abegg said of getting the city to hire more officers.
He hopes the city administration will now push for more officers, he said.
“If it’s not a wake-up call, then the problems with the city are more serious than I had thought,” Abegg said.