Above, 18th Police District Capt. Robin Wimberly hands her daughter, Jazmine Burgess, 14, a T-shirt during the fundraiser. MARIA S. YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO
Philadelphia Police Officer Jesse Hartnett has become something of an American cult hero since surviving a Jan. 7 ambush on a West Philadelphia street corner by shrugging off three bullet wounds and prevailing over the so-called “urban terrorist.”
The proliferation of dramatic and sensational surveillance video of the assassination attempt via broadcast and social media has escalated his legend.
But to local cops and their supporters, Hartnett is no mythical figure. He’s flesh and blood and one of their own — yet a hero all the same. Last Thursday, hundreds of his colleagues, relatives and friends gathered at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 in the Northeast to pay tribute to Hartnett and wish him well in his long recovery.
“One thing about police officers and firefighters, we support our own and we show up in a time of need,” said officer Bernard Turner, a 27-year PPD veteran and 1999 winner of the prestigious George Fencl Award for compassion, fairness and civic commitment. “He’s a hero to me. I understand how dangerous it is on the streets, but what I found so humbling was the way he performed in a time of so much stress and turmoil. It was excellent.”
In case you missed it, Hartnett, 33, was alone in a patrol car near 60th and Spruce streets shortly before midnight when a man dressed in a robe-like garment charged at him while firing repeated shots from a pistol. The assailant emptied his gun as he reached into the driver’s window. Hartnett took three slugs to his left arm, but fought off the attack, radioed for backup, stepped out of the patrol car and shot the gunman.
When investigators interrogated the gunman afterward, he pledged his allegiance to ISIS and said that he believes police defend laws contrary to Islam, although he may have been acting independently of Islamic state terrorists, authorities have said.
Hartnett, a four-year police veteran, suffered major nerve damage and spent two weeks in the hospital. He arrived at the FOP last Thursday with long screws protruding from a cast covering his injured arm.
“We hear stories of people being in shootouts, but when you actually see the footage and how he was ambushed and he came out fighting, it makes you get goosebumps,” said Capt. Robin Wimberly, Hartnett’s commander in the 18th district. “He is truly a fighter.”
“Here’s the sad reality: I don’t know that you can truly prepare for something like that,” Police Commissioner Richard Ross said. “What he demonstrated was a level of bravery that goes beyond comprehension. In terms of preparation, he had a lot of things working for him that day and certainly his will to live was one of the biggest ones.”
Police officials shielded Hartnett from a throng of news reporters and spoke on his behalf.
Earlier last week, a squad of officers from the New York Police Department arrived in Philadelphia to greet Hartnett and present him with an award. The video resonated with them largely because it evoked memories of a similar attack on two NYPD officers in Brooklyn in 2014. A man with a gun and a hatred of police assassinated Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.
NYPD officer David Sherogan was moved by, “the way he went after this perpetrator, who did the worst harm to him possible, and he prevailed. He just did everything right.”
“Whether you’re here in Philadelphia, in New York, in Los Angeles, we’re a brotherhood,” said John McNesby, FOP Lodge 5 president. “And with all that’s going on around the country, this shows the support and camaraderie among the police departments.”
Attendees were asked to donate whatever they wished to a fund supporting Hartnett. The event also featured silent auctions of sports memorabilia and other fundraising activities. The FOP uses a similar format whenever raising money for the families of slain officers.
“He’s got probably a number of surgeries down the line, a long road to recovery,” McNesby said. “But on the flip side, we usually do these (events) for officers who lose their lives in the line of duty. This is a good thing that we’re celebrating he’s still here with us.” ••
A true hero: Above, Police Officer Jesse Hartnett sits with his girlfriend, Lily Abdullina, during a fundraiser held in his honor at the FOP Lodge 5. MARIA S. YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO