Tributes poured in as a Pennsylvania community mourned the death of a Temple University police officer, a father of four, killed when responding to a robbery in progress Saturday.
“I always thought he was invincible,” 31-year-old Temple University officer Christopher Fitzgerald’s cousin, Juan Marrero, told WPVI.
Authorities indicated that Fitzgerald was patrolling alone when he responded to a call of a robbery near the Philadelphia University campus. After arriving on the scene, the suspect allegedly shot the officer in the head before rifling through his pockets, attempting to steal his service weapon, and proceeding to commit a carjacking.
“When I got a call from my grandmom, they said, ‘Chris got shot.’ I was hoping he’d be ok,” Marrero expressed. “It’s painful right now that it had to be him. You probably already know he’s the first Temple police officer ever to get killed on duty. I just pray he’s the first and last.”
Hours prior to the incident, Fitzgerald was filmed responding to a different crime scene in what reporter Bryanna Gallagher described as “his final moments out serving and protecting the community.”
Just hours before Temple University Police Officer Chris Fitzgerald was shot and killed, we caught his final moments out serving and protecting the community. @6abc
He responded to a crime scene at 15th and Susquehanna with fellow officers.
🎥: @tomkellyiv pic.twitter.com/WUp5N2TmAA
— Bryanna Gallagher (@BGallagherTV) February 20, 2023
As locals constructed a makeshift memorial near the crime scene, former coworker Joshua Perez spoke about his relationship with Fitzgerald whom he considered like a brother. “I can’t put into words the relationship we had. I was honored. His father just called me to be a pallbearer.”
“He was a true hero even though I told him, ‘Don’t be a hero.’ He was still a hero and we’ll love him forever. We’ll make sure we honor him the best we can,” he added.
Perez described Fitzgerald’s commitment to bettering his community through volunteer work, a point Temple University Police Association president Alec Shaffer highlighted in a statement, “He is the guy that we all strive to be. He is a family man. When he wasn’t working, wasn’t serving this community, he was still out in the community doing other community events. When we did union events, he was always the first one there, always willing to help out and always engaging the community.”
As Marrero had told WPVI, “He’s 31. He’s been doing this since he was 19. This is what he loved to do. He cared about his community.”
By Sunday morning, investigators had tracked down 18-year-old suspect Miles Pfeffer at his large family home located in affluent Buckingham Township outside Philadelphia. It was there that it appeared Pfeffer had attempted to melt the weapon allegedly used to shoot Fitzgerald in a fire pit.
The fallen officer’s handcuffs were used to make the arrest.
“That’s a tradition that we do any time there is a fallen officer. We felt it was important to remember officer Fitzgerald by once again placing his cuffs on the suspect,” Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Robert Clark said.
The Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner detailed the suspect was charged with murder, murder of a law enforcement officer, robbery, carjacking and weapons crimes.
Though she included a partisan message about gun control, Pennsylvania’s acting Attorney General Michelle Henry also paid tribute to Fitzgerald and the tireless efforts of law enforcement as the commonwealth will remember him by flying flags at half-staff.
“For the third time this year, the second time in less than two weeks, Pennsylvania has suffered the tragedy of a police officer killed by the violence wrought by firearms. Today we join in mourning with the communities of Temple University and the City of Philadelphia, and the family of Officer Fitzgerald, who died a hero bravely responding to a dangerous and volatile situation,” Henry said. “I want to offer my sincere condolences to his family and loved ones, who knew the danger he confronted in his job and supported him in his chosen profession — as do all families of law enforcement officers. I also want to solemnly thank the investigators from our Office’s Gun Violence Task Force working with ATF agents, U.S. Marshals, Pennsylvania State Police, Philadelphia Police, and law enforcement in Buck County, who literally worked through the night to identify and arrest the suspected shooter involved with this heinous act. We stand together to honor Officer Fitzgerald’s service and sacrifice to our community and the entire Commonwealth.”
At the time of this posting, a crowdfunding page set up by the Temple University Police Association had already raised more than $210,000 of a $250,000 goal to help provide for the wife and children Fitzgerald is survived by.
This is the face of a hero who was murdered while trying to protect the City of Philadelphia.
Temple University Police Officer Christopher Fitzgerald leaves behind a wife and four children.
EOW: 02/18/23. pic.twitter.com/vurPq5n7Il
— Officer Lew (@officer_Lew) February 19, 2023
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