Philadelphians are mourning the loss of police Cpl. James O’Connor IV, killed last Friday morning while serving a search warrant and fugitive arrest warrant for a murder suspect in Frankford.
Funeral services are not expected until at least early April for O’Connor, a Millbrook resident. Coronavirus precautions forced postponement of a viewing and funeral Mass scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
Last Friday, O’Connor and members of the SWAT team and a fugitive squad entered a property on the 1600 block of Bridge Street, right down the street from Frankford Transportation Center, at about 5:50 a.m. Officers were met by gunfire through a closed door on the second floor, authorities said.
O’Connor, 46, was struck near his left shoulder blade area and left forearm. He was pronounced dead at 6:09 a.m. at Temple University Hospital.
“It’s a very sad day, not just for officers here, but it’s a very sad day for the family who was here and who was mourning and still trying to stomach all this now,” Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said outside the hospital.
“It’s a tough job, and they do the best for us every day,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “It’s just a bad day.”
O’Connor, a 23-year veteran of the department, spent 15 years as a member of the SWAT team and was married with two adult children and a granddaughter. His son, James V, is an officer in the 6th District, and his daughter, Kelsey, is an active duty member of the U.S. Air Force, stationed in North Carolina.
“We certainly know when we put this uniform on, that it could be the last time that we see our loved ones,” Outlaw said. “It takes a special person to do this job, and that’s who this corporal was.”
Police said another SWAT officer, Patrick Saba, returned fire, hitting two males, who were transported to the hospital in stable condition.
O’Connor and the other officers were serving a warrant for 21-year-old Hassan Elliott, according to the District Attorney’s Office. Elliott, of the 800 block of E. Price St. in East Germantown, was not shot. He was arrested and charged with the March 1, 2019 murder and robbery of Tyree Tyrone, 33, on the 5300 block of Duffield St. in Frankford.
That murder took place, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office, on the same day Elliott was in court on a cocaine charge. U.S. Attorney William McSwain described Elliott as a member of a gang called “1700,” which he said operates on Brill and Scattergood streets.
Khalif Sears, 18, of the 6200 block of N. Lambert St. in West Oak Lane, one of the men shot in the Bridge Street home, has also been charged in the 2019 murder. The other person shot was a 40-year-old man who lives in the house. He is being held on unrelated charges.
Two others were transported to the homicide unit, police said.
Ten firearms were recovered from a second-floor middle bedroom.
It’s not yet clear who fired the bullet that killed O’Connor, a North Catholic High School graduate.
“These officers didn’t get a chance,” Outlaw said. “The gunfire happened immediately as soon as they walked in the door.”
Bill Hunter, 58, a 29-year police veteran, spent about five years working alongside O’Connor on the SWAT team.
“Jimmy was very easygoing. Even though he was the supervisor … you would never know. He was just a natural leader and just a fun guy to be around,” he said. “And, the one thing about Jimmy was, you were the most important person there. You and your safety were more important to him than anything else.”
Hunter, who also attended North Catholic and was the former wrestling coach, spoke about the bond among SWAT officers in the city.
“Other than my North Catholic brotherhood, being a part of the SWAT team is probably the most unique brotherhood I’ve ever been part of, outside of my own immediate family. We train together, we’ve seen this type of tragedy together, we hunt down murderers together,” he said. “You really bond when you do stuff like that. This hit really hard. I’m absolutely stunned. I’m numb.”
O’Connor’s passing provided a moment of reflection, in many ways, for Hunter.
“It really makes you reflect and look back and realize what’s important and what’s not important,” he said. “The most important thing to Jimmy was family. He was a great father. I feel terrible for his family. Jimmy is a hero. He’s always going to be remembered as a hero, the way he should be.”
From 1988 to 1992, O’Connor attended North, where he played soccer all four years, and lived on Coral Street in Kensington during his attendance, according to former head coach Tom Ciolko.
“He was a quiet kid who enjoyed being around his teammates. He was a hard worker. And, he never complained about anything. He was a really nice kid,” Ciolko said. “We didn’t just lose another police officer. We lost a good man.”
Jerry Brindisi was the assistant coach during O’Connor’s playing days.
“He was a back and midfielder. He came down to Norphans Day years later,” Brindisi said. “He was just a great kid. I saw him at Byrne’s [Tavern] every once in a while. And, he was just your regular, blue-collar hero.”
O’Connor is the first city police officer killed since 2015, when Sgt. Robert Wilson III was gunned down in North Philadelphia.
Condolences for O’Connor’s family and friends poured in following his death.
Archbishop Nelson Perez said, “I have asked the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese to join me praying for the soul of Cpl. O’Connor, for the consolation and peace of his family, and for all those suffering as a result of his death. May the Lord pour His mercy upon them and hold them in His loving embrace.”
“This morning’s shooting is a reminder of the dangers men and women in law enforcement face every day and the sacrifices they make to keep our communities safe,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement.
O’Connor “was murdered for doing his job – serving and protecting the people of Philadelphia,” U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said. “The monster who murdered Cpl. O’Connor must be aggressively prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And Congress needs to do more to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals.”
State Sen. Christine Tartaglione, whose district includes the 1600 block of Bridge Street, told residents it is time to unite as a community.
“Words cannot express the grief I feel for the corporal’s family, colleagues, and loved ones,” she said on Facebook. “I am also sad for the proud residents of Frankford who have been forced to live amid violent crime for far too long.”
State Rep. Jason Dawkins said, “He was a 23-year veteran of the police force and served each day with honor and distinction. He spent the last 15 years on the SWAT team working hard for the Frankford and Philadelphia communities. O’Connor’s dedication to his neighbors was evident every day he served, and I send my deepest condolences to his friends, family and colleagues. Please keep Cpl. O’Connor’s loved ones and the entire Philadelphia Police Department in your thoughts and prayers.”
Fraternal Order of Police State Lodge President Les Neri issued the following statement:
“Cpl. O’Connor is a courageous hero who made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting and serving the citizens of Philadelphia. His dedication and bravery will live on forever. Our heartfelt condolences go to Cpl. O’Connor’s family and friends during this time. We join with the Philadelphia Police Department in praying for the safety of the those who protect us each and every day. This is a sobering reminder that our law enforcement officers leave their homes and loved ones to uphold the oath they took to protect and serve their communities, not knowing what will happen during the course of their shift.” ••