Never Forgotten: Remembering Rockford's fallen officers through - – Rockford’s News Leader

Never Forgotten: Remembering Rockford's fallen officers through family, friends

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In 100 years, the Rockford Police Department has lost seven active duty officers. The most recent being 30-year-old Jaimie Cox, who died of blunt force trauma after a traffic stop three months ago this Monday. 13 WREX took a closer look at the six officers who died serving their community before him. We managed to track down friends and relatives of nearly every single Rockford cop killed on the force starting all the way back in 1917.

"In fact his name was Lorenzo  Gillogly," said LuAnn Cantrell. "But they called him Jack."

Cantrell is the great-granddaughter of Rockford Officer Jack Gillogly.  

"I just know that he was from Ireland, I think second generation possibly. And that he was a police officer in Rockford," she said.

What she also knows is he was the first officer on the Rockford Police Department ever killed.

"He was off duty but I believe still in his uniform so I believe he had his gun with him. And he was walking down the street and some gentleman came up to  him and the gentleman was trying to hurt his wife," she said.  

It was October 12, 1917.  Newspaper reports from the time say Gillogly was shot and killed by a man described as a "love crazed husband"  and a "maniac" who was trying to murder his wife. Gillogly was  just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was gunned down in the middle of the street while people looked on. Then the suspect turned the gun on himself.

It was a horrific crime and the first officer ever killed on the Rockford Police Department. But it's hard to gauge how hard it shook the community given the fact that the headline of the newspaper the day after his death was "White Sox Beat Giants in Fifth Game".

Gillogly may have been the first officer with the department to die but he sadly would not be the last.

"He was born in Ferentino, Italy not far from Rome and came to this country and worked various jobs 'til he started working for the Rockford Police Department," said Jerry Pratt. The grandson of Patrol Officer Frank Cichella. Cichella was the first Italian hired to the department. Other than that, Pratt knows very little about his grandfather.  

"My Uncle Albert told me, he was the only male of the 7 children all the others were sisters, and he said that one time his father was talking to another man in the neighborhood. And uncle Albert started to interrupt and Frank said to him, 'get out of here I'm having a conversation with this man'," Pratt said.  

That was the only story he'd ever heard about his grandfather.

The story of Cichella's death is just as mysterious. On February 25th, 1927, Cichella got into an argument with another man about his car lights. The two got into a gun battle on the 800 block of Corbin Street, killing each other. But to this day no one knows who started the fight or fired the first shot. On their death beds, both men blamed the other for starting the argument and firing the first shot.

"It's a shame that he died when he did, I would have liked to have known him. Found out which kind of a person he is, he was I should say," said Pratt.  

Almost 10 years passed between the deaths of Gillogly and Cichella. The next death of a Rockford officer would come much sooner.

"Arthur Bassett is a very special case to me," said Kathy Kressol, a local historian and author.

She's followed the history of all of Rockford's fallen officer's closely, especially the story of Arthur Bassett.

"He picked up his girlfriend and they went for a ride and then they stopped on Michigan Avenue, Rockford Montague, and were in their car and when he pulled over, another car pulled up behind him and they started pounding on the hood and told them to step out of the car," she said.

Bassett still had his gun but it wasn't enough to protect him. The gang of men opened fire on him. He was shot and killed in front of his fiance, Pearl Johnson, who told newspapers at the time that Arthur saved her life. The four suspects got away.Bassett's death was the first that captured news headlines as a frantic search began for the suspects. But they were never found and to this day Bassett's murder remains a mystery.

45 years later tragedy would strike the Rockford Police Department again. A day retired officer Tom Nimmo remembers vividly.

"It was one of them situations where, like the old Western's say, the guy got the drop on him," said  Nimmo.  

It was June 1, 1972. Charles Jeffrey Williams was just 28 years old when he and his partner stopped a suspect wanted for armed robbery.

"He was no threat because he was backing away. This was a time when a criminal like this should turn and run, but he shot him anyway," said Nimmo, who was on the force at the time and had worked with Williams.

Williams was shot-- rushed to the hospital-- where he died. Leaving behind a wife-- and two young children. Flags across the stateline  flew at half staff in his honor.

"He was just a good man," said Nimmo.

Nimmo said the death shook the entire department. Just eight years later, it and Nimmo, would be rocked again.

"It was terrible," he said.  "Randall was a young guy that came from Freeport. Again, he was a very personable guy, easy going."

Twenty-three-year-old Officer Randall Blank was on the force just over two years.

"He was walking the beat off East State Street and he intercepted a purse snatcher. And they got into a physical confrontation and the guy overpowered him, took his weapon."

The whole struggle was captured over police radio and Nimmo says what happens next still haunts the officers who knew Blank.

"The last thing that we could hear on the radio is he said, "please" and the guy shot him anyway," said Nimmo.

Blank was shot and killed with his own weapon begging for his life. That recording still exists today.

"We used it for training for many years. And every time you listened to it, you get choked up," said Nimmo.

The funeral for Blank was unlike anything the city had seen up until that point. More than 300 officers from across northern Illinois came for his funeral.
Another 21 years would pass before Rockford would see anything like it again.

"Kevin didn't give his life. His life was taken," said Elmer Rice.

 It was August 3, 2001. Detective Kevin Rice was off duty.

"So when you get  a phone call like that it's something you never expect," said Elmer. "I remember getting a phone call from my sister Stephanie who was with Kevin at the time, and saw Kevin get killed."

Elmer remembers learning his brother, Kevin, was checking on some suspicious men in his sister's neighborhood.

"That's what made it even more shocking. The fact that he didn't have his badge or gun with him but still acting as a police officer," said Elmer.  

Rice was shot six times in the chest and killed. Leaving behind a wife and three children.

"Just knowing that his kids wouldn't have a father was the most difficult thing," he said.

More than 250 squad cars made up a procession for Detective Rice. Before the era of social media, people wrote letters of support to the Rice family published in the Rockford Register Star.

"It showed how much they really cared about Kevin," said Elmer.

While every fallen Rockford officer died in a different way at a different time, their surviving family and friends all want the same thing. For the community, to never forget them.

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