Ella French was identified as the 29-year-old Chicago police officer who was shot and killed in a traffic stop on August 7, 2021. She was remembered as a dedicated public servant and “humanitarian” who possessed “attributes that you don’t find in this world anymore.”
Those descriptors came from her brother to the Chicago Tribune the day after the shooting that also left French’s partner fighting for his life in critical condition, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said in a news conference. She was mourned by fellow officers and people all over the country, who paid tribute.
The Fraternal Order of Police: Chicago Lodge No. 7 named French on Facebook, writing on August 8, “Late last night 2 of our own were shot. We lost a sister in blue. Officer Ella French was murdered while conducting a traffic stop with her partners. Our hearts go out to her family, friends and co-workers. The 2nd officer is still fighting for his life. Please keep him in your prayers and thoughts.” The family and Cook County Medical Examiner also released the officer’s name, according to The Tribune.
An emotional Brown asked the city of Chicago to “wrap their arms around our police officers and encourage them to continue their great work in protecting us all.” He added, “Officers need this city to pray for their strength, to pray for peace, that they are comforted and that their families are comforted.”
He said that three suspects are in custody; neighbors helped apprehend one of the suspects, the Tribune reported. Their names have not been released as they were still being interviewed on August 8, 2021. According to Brown, 38 Chicago police officers have been shot at or shot in 2021, and 11 have been struck. Of those 11, one – French – died. He called those “extraordinary numbers,” saying that, in 2020, 79 officers were shot at or shot, a 500% increase over the previous year.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. French’s Brother Recalled How She Always Thought of Other People Before Herself & Was a ‘Person of Integrity’
Andrew French, Ella French’s older brother, told the Chicago Tribune that French always thought of others first.
“My sister’s always been a person of integrity. She’s always done the right thing even when nobody’s looking. She’s always believed in people and believed in doing the right thing. She’s always believed in taking care of the small people. She’s always believed in taking care of people that can’t take care of themselves,” he told the newspaper, which said he is a veteran of the Iraq War.
French told the newspaper that his sister was motivated to get people help rather than “throwing people in jail” and supported therapy and social services. “She was a humanitarian. She believed in human rights. She was one of the officers on the force that thought they needed reform,” he said to the Tribune. “Because she’s seen the front line, just like I have. She’s always been a very caring person … When I was in Iraq, me and her, we talked. And she has some attributes that you don’t find in this world anymore.”
Andrew French also told the Tribune: “She was a very strong individual, she was always very bright and charismatic and she always cared, very much, way more than other people did. She would go out of her way to make sure people were good. Like, she was the epitome of a good Samaritan. And she was the best sister. It didn’t matter what I was going through or how hard things were hitting me, she was always there,” he said.
Brown and Andrew French both told the news media that social media rumors that Ella French had a small baby at home and had just returned from maternity leave were false. Andrew French told the Tribune that she was not married and did not have children.
2. French & Two Other Officers Were Conducting a Traffic Stop When the Car’s Passenger Opened Fire, Police Say
Brown confirmed that “one of our officers is deceased and one is in critical condition.” The name of the officer in critical condition has not yet been released.
On Saturday, August 7, 2021, at 9 p.m., officers assigned to a community safety team “conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle with three occupants. There were also three officers in the same car that stopped these three occupants,” said Brown. “Officers were fired upon and they returned fire. One of our officers was struck by one of the offenders’ bullets and sustained a fatal gunshot wound.”
He said the suspected gunman was also shot and a weapon was recovered. One of the three suspects is a female who was arrested the day after the shooting, although police did not reveal how she initially got away. The other two suspects are males who were taken into custody the day of the shooting.
3. French Had Served as a Chicago Police Officer for More Than Three Years & Brown Says Officers Are Continuing to Protect the People of Chicago in Her Honor
According to Brown, French had three and a half years on the Chicago police force. She started on the job in April of 2018, he said. Her partner who was shot has six years on the force.
“Despite the shock, grief pain and sorrow we feel this morning, our brothers and sisters in blue put this uniform on each and every day. They go to work risking everything to serve the people of Chicago,” Brown said.
“They come to work, willing to run toward danger, toward gunfire and they’re willing to sacrifice their lives to save the lives of perfect strangers. They went to work today. After last night’s tragic events, officers are working now. Right now. Continuing this brave, courageous work of protecting the people of Chicago. It’s in the honor of our lost officers that we work, that we sacrifice, that we serve that we risk everything.”
He added, “A new shift of officers grieving and heartbroken will do the same thing tonight and tomorrow night and each and every night they serve. They go down dark alleys no one would go down. They confront violent offenders no one would confront… we are all made safe, and we sleep well at night because of these brave men and women.”
A man named Ian Matthew Lopez wrote an emotional post on Facebook in tribute to a 911 dispatcher who was working that night, Keith A. Thornton Jr. His post gives a sense of the stress and complexity of the tragic moment:
I’m not very big to giving people shout outs like this. But if there was any place on earth yesterday that my friend Keith could have been, it was working Chicago Police Department’s Zone 6. I cried as I listened to him but he held it down like a pro.
The way he talked to his officers, kept his air completely shut down and clear, set a perimeter within SECONDS, guided his officers to get their partners to NOT ONLY the hospital ASAP, but demanded and made sure they went to the closest trauma center and not medical hospital where they originally were headed, talked to them to get them to start CPR in the back of the squad car while enroute, telling CPD brass that he was going to get CFD’s light wagon to respond as CPD’s could not, called for the K-9 units, got Cook County Sheriff to even come in, other officers from other districts to come help, made sure that PH2 was up in the air calling things out, my list can go on and on… it was AMAZING!
You were fast thinking, quick on your feet, and took initiative without any direction in the very beginning stages and ran the emergency like an actual incident commander – far beyond the criteria of any dispatcher.
This city is proud of you. I’m so proud of you for all your hard work and for showing our city what it means to be an amazing 911 dispatcher and why it is so important for us for fight for you hero’s to be deemed as first responders. You did everything you could last night and even stayed late until you knew things were solid. You’re amazing at what you do and you deserve to be recognized for it with the upmost respect!
These suspects would NOT be in custody as quick as they were if you did not establish that perimeter in the heat of the fkin moment – that was beyond amazing. You’re a true hero in our books and I want you to know I and all of Chicago and abroad were listening to you ‘run wit it.’
The City of Chicago is blessed to have you as part of their team amongst all of the other fine dispatchers in this city. 💙💙💙💙
The world heard you loud and clear and we stand with you. 🖤💛💛🖤
I know that you are a little sad right now based on that voice last night but we all mourn the loss of a Chicago Police officer, Ella French right along with you. You did everything right. My heart goes out to their families and all of CPD. Let’s keep them in our prayers. Thank you for your service, thank all police officers for their service.
4. French & Her Mother Were Travel Partners & Best Friends, Her Brother Says
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in the press conference that French is survived by her mother and brother. French is the first officer to be killed since she became mayor.
“I am here as mayor to declare today an official day of mourning for our city. All of the buildings will have flags at half staff, and I call upon all other private buildings to do the same. Tragedy has struck; we mourn the loss of a young officer.”
French’s brother described to the Tribune how close his sister was with their mother, saying they were travel partners and best friends who went on trips several times a year.
The mayor said she had offered private condolences to French’s mother, brother, family and friends, and wanted to publicly do the same. “Please keep this officer in your prayers. Also keep the other officer who was shot in your prayers and his family and friends,” she said, calling them, “two young people doing what we ask, service over self, commitment and dedication.”
However, the mayor’s and police superintendent’s comments overall didn’t please one alderman, Raymond Lopez. On Twitter, he wrote, “Lightfoot, Brown & Carter need to shut up & stop. Let the families & police process last night’s tragedy in peace [without] confrontation or argument. It’s not about you or your petty feelings. It’s about the brave men & women dealing with a collective pain, only needing our support.” He wrote that the shooting occurred in Chicago Lawn neighborhood.
Carter refers to CPD 1st Deputy Superintendent Eric Carter.
In the news conference, Lightfoot waded into policing controversies, saying, “I also want to address another issue; it’s been lashing our city for far too long. There are some who say that we do not do enough for the police and that we are handcuffing them from doing their jobs. There are others who say we do too much for the police and that we never hold them accountable for what they do particularly in black and brown neighborhoods. All of this. Stop. Just stop. This constant strife is not what we need in this moment.”
Lightfoot continued, “Of course, we have to continue the journey to achieve constitutional accountable policing; that can not be in debate at this point but let me also reiterate what I have said before and what I know to be true. The police are not our enemies. They’re human just as we are. Also risking their lives every day for our safety and security. That reality became very real last night in an emergency room amongst tears and fears from the finest and the most courageous people I know.”
According to the mayor: “A mother lost her daughter last night. A brother, his sister, a family forever shattered. Another continues to keep vigil at a hospital bed sending up powerful prayers but no doubt fearing the worst. They are hurting, understandably so. In moments like these, life gets boiled down to its basic essence, and so it will be for these two families.”
She implored: “People of goodwill in this city, I urge you, we must come together. We must unite. We have a common enemy. It’s the guns and the gangs. Eradicating both is complex, but we cannot let the size of the challenge deter us. We have to continue striking hard blows every day. No gang member, no drug dealer, no gun dealer can ever have a moment of peace on any block, any neighborhood, not in our city, and to get there we must be united and single minded in our determination to do just that.”
She added, “We have to reclaim the physical and moral territory, shoulder to shoulder, fighting for each other not against each other. We have a common enemy and let’s not lose sight of that. Today as we reflect and mourn, let’s lift up the names of all of our victims of community violence. Say their names, say their names and pray for the Lord to welcome the departed into a place where there is no more sorrow and also today I ask this: When you see a police officer, say thank you, say thank you.”
According to Lightfoot, “devoted, dedicated officers reported for duty today despite the pain of losing one of their own, despite the fears of their families as they walk out the door. These officers deserve to make it home safely today, and every day we owe them a debt of gratitude we will likely never be able to truly repay. Say thank you to the Chicago police officers that you see today; be thankful for their sacrifice and service on behalf of us all.”
5. The Suspected Gunman Has a Criminal History for Robbery, Brown Says
Not much has been released about the nature of the traffic stop or the backgrounds of the suspects, but Brown said the suspected gunman, believed to be the male passenger, has a criminal history for robbery, receiving probation. “His criminal history is not extensive,” he said.
He said the driver also has a criminal history but not an extensive one.
The officers were wearing body cameras. He said French’s mother requested that police withhold some biographical information on her daughter and they wanted to “honor her request.”