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Chicago Police officer killed with own weapon

July 7, 2010

A Chicago Police officer — an academy instructor who volunteered his time by serving as a guide to a blind triathlete — was shot and killed with his own weapon Wednesday afternoon during a struggle outside a South Side police station, authorities said.

Officer Thor Soderberg, 43, was killed at about 3:45 p.m. at 61st and Racine in the parking lot outside the old Englewood District police station, which is now used by the department’s targeted response and gang enforcement units.
Chicago Police officer Thor Soderberg was killed with his own weapon Wednesday after a struggle outside a South Side police station.
(Scott Stewart/Sun-Times)

“The entire Chicago Police Department would like to send their deepest condolences to the officer’s family, and we ask that you keep them in your prayers,” Assistant Police Supt. James Jackson said.

Soderberg had finished his shift and was standing near his car when a 24-year-old man attacked — disarming him and shooting him with Soderberg’s own weapon, Jackson said.

The suspect ran away and then robbed a civilian, police said.

Officers from the police station exchanged gunfire with the suspect, who was shot in the abdomen, Jackson said.

The suspect, a convicted felon, was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he is under guard.

The man was arrested on the Fourth of July in 2006 for wounding his own brother with a .32-caliber handgun, according to police records. He was covered with blood and told police “I just shot my brother,” a police report said. He was charged with aggravated battery, but the case was later dismissed, court records show.

The suspect was convicted of possession of a controlled substance in 2006. His criminal record includes 21 arrests.

Friends of the suspect described him as a mentally disabled man who regularly begged for money in the neighborhood.

“His mind is gone,” said a friend, Gary Nash, 28.

But Nash said he still could not believe the man would turn a gun on a police officer.

“He had a mental problem,” added another man, the father of two of the suspect’s half-brothers.

The Sun-Times is not naming the alleged shooter, who lived about five blocks from the murder scene, because he is not yet charged with the officer’s murder.

Soderberg was given a one-week assignment to work the street as part of police Supt. Jody Weis’ summer anti-crime initiative called Operation Protect Youth. He was on the police force for nearly 11 years.

“I’m still shaking, shaking,” said DePaul University Professor Mazen Istanbouli, a blind triathlete who was guided by the slain officer. They ran, biked and swam as a team.

“It’s disturbing news. He was a great man. He exemplified the best police officer I have ever seen.”

Ironically, Istanbouli had participated in this spring’s “Run to Remember” honoring fallen Chicago Police officers — out of friendship for the now-fallen Soderberg.

Istanbouli, who teaches political science, said the officer had volunteered to guide him through triathlons in Chicago and New York about two years ago.

“He always said, ‘This medal is not for me. I want you to get a medal,’ ” Istanbouli said. “He always thought of others before himself. We were friends. I was doing a bike ride today with my trainer and said, ‘I sure would like to see Thor.’ ”

Soderberg was married and lived in a brick, three-story building in the Kenwood neighborhood. Fellow officers stood guard outside the home Wednesday.

According to his bio on the website of the C Different Foundation that serves blind athletes, Soderberg served in the military, was a Chicago Police bike patrol officer at one point and completed the “Swim to Alcatraz.”

In the bio, Soderberg called his work with Istanbouli “a gift for me.”

“To be able to help someone else enjoy the sport I have been able to participate in since the mid nineties is truly a blessing,” Soderberg wrote. “I was introduced to the sport by a friend in college, and now becoming a guide has allowed me to move that tradition forward and help others learn and enjoy the sport. I have been doing roughly two to three events a summer since the mid-nineties.

“Triathlon allows me to stay active while having a great time, and being a guide for Mazen and C-different was the next step in sharing what is an important part of my life more accessible for an athlete like Mazen.

“Sports and triathlons specifically are a great way to get in touch with yourself and to learn about what you thought limits were.

“Many people think they can NOT swim 1500 meters or run 10 kilometers, and a triathlon shows you what IS possible, and how much else is possible because of it. That is what brought me to triathlons and keeps me doing them into this decade, and hopefully, for many decades to come.”

In the Englewood neighborhood where he was killed, one neighbor said he heard five shots ring out.

D.L. Buckner, 23, of the 6100 block of South Elizabeth — a block away from the shooting — said he was sitting on his porch when he heard the gunfire.

“Then it stopped,” Buckner said. “And then we heard five more shots. And then it stopped again. And that’s when we heard a whole bunch of police cars flying over there. First we thought it was firecrackers. It’s tripped out. It’s crazy. It’s sad to see anybody get killed, especially somebody who works around here.”

Mark Donahue, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, reflected on the department’s latest loss.

“It’s quite apparent that not only have we lost a brother in arms, but the entire population of the city, [if] you had known him, would be very proud to call him one of your own,” Donahue said.
21 arrests at least one involving him shooting his brother in a city where handguns are banned and the case was dismissed. This is a sad commentary on our broken legal system and another Brave Warrior has to die.

Rest in Peace.

RIP Thor
RIP ... sad
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