Family of Slain Officers Face a Unique Kind of Pain
Officer Michael Bailey
Chicago Tribune via Yellowbrix
July 20, 2010
CHICAGO – To residents of Chicago, Michael Bailey and Thomas Wortham IV were public servants, Chicago police officers at opposite ends of their careers.
To their families, one was a husband and father, the other a son and brother. Both were slain in front of their family homes, in front of loved ones who, in each case, ran outside to try to save them.
On Monday, a day after Bailey’s slaying — the third Chicago police officer killed in two months — politicians and residents of the Chatham neighborhood gathered in Cole Park outside Wortham’s home as new gun legislation was signed in his name.
After the bill was signed and the dignitaries driven away, Wortham’s father, an officer himself for 32 years who ran to his son’s defense by firing at his attackers, sat down in the park to talk about the last few months.
Thomas Wortham III talked of losing his sense of safety in his own neighborhood after his son was killed. Of being a business major and knowing how key jobs are to a community. He talked about how there is a threat on any block if people don’t look out the window and get involved.
But what was harder to talk about was the moment he shares with Bailey’s son, who ran from his home early Sunday, armed with one of his father’s guns, to try to stop the people who had attacked his father.
After pausing several seconds to reflect on those moments, Wortham’s face fell slowly as his eyes welled.
“No one knows the pain,’’ he said, his voice dropping.
Bailey’s slaying, outside his Park Manor neighborhood home, was still under investigation. Several rewards totaling $55,000 had been announced. Physical evidence was being worked up, and the FBI was lending support to the inquiry.
Bailey, a 62-year-old father of two, was shot in the 7400 block of South Evans Avenue as he shined the windows of a new Buick he had purchased to celebrate retirement, which was just weeks away. He had just returned home from work and was still in uniform.
On Monday, his co-workers at the Central District remembered how a dedicated Bailey continued to put in for overtime, even as his career was winding down. Just as he stood out among neighbors on his Park Manor block, Bailey left an impression in the district.
He "illuminated through the building,’’ said Officer Eugene Goldsmith, who served with Bailey for about 15 years.
The slaying stunned a department already reeling from the loss of not only Wortham, 30, but of Officer Thor Soderberg, who just 11 days earlier was shot and killed in an Englewood neighborhood police station lot after finishing his shift.
While both Wortham and Bailey were shot in robberies, Soderberg, 43, was shot by a 24-year-old man who attacked him and took his weapon.
But the fact that all three died in gun violence was a repeated theme at the Cole Park ceremony to sign the gun legislation. The new law enhances the penalties for weapons violations.
The ceremony was planned in Wortham’s honor because one of his alleged assailants was on probation after having been convicted of a gun charge. Wortham was visiting his parents at his childhood home, across from Cole Park at 85th Street and King Drive, when he was shot as four men tried to steal his motorcycle.
It happened just a week after the officer, as president of the Cole Park advisory council, pledged to address the rising tide of violence in the area.
And while tough gun laws might be one solution, Thomas Wortham III and his wife, Carolyn, said the problem was far more complex. But like their son, they were not backing down.
“We have to be more vigilant to look out for each other,’’ Wortham said. “People have to open their doors, come out of the house.”
As a Park District field house cleared out and chattering kids ran for the playground behind her, Carolyn Wortham talked of how children need "experience and expectations.‘’ She also said the lot was going to be named in her son’s honor.
“Tommy was all about kids,‘’ she said. "And he was the quintessential child. … Skydiving. Snowmobiling. As an adult, he did all the fun things of a child. He wanted other children to have the same opportunities he had. And we’re going to try and keep his memory alive.’’