On Saturday night, Keith Thornton experienced what he said was “one of the hardest shifts of my entire public safety career.”
The Chicago dispatcher was working as two officers were shot during a traffic stop. One of them, 29-year-old Ella French, was killed and the other remains in critical condition.
“Give me some units,” Keith Thornton Jr. can be heard saying over the radio as he tells others to “stay off my air” the moment he learned of an officer down.
In the minutes that followed, Thornton Jr. repeatedly called out a suspect description, immediately ordered a perimeter to be set up in the blocks surrounding the shooting and sent multiple ambulances to the scene.
“We got ’em coming baby, we got ’em coming,” he can be heard saying.
Thornton Jr. stopped one of the officers from being taken to a hospital without a trauma center as he directed the vehicles to University of Chicago Hospital and ordered officers to block traffic as they went.
“I had a bad day the other day. We all did,” Thornton Jr. wrote on Facebook Monday. “Whether one was on the scene, on the other side of the radio as a dispatcher or citizen just listening, or inside the ER working hard to save our heroes.”
In the hours after the shooting unfolded, Thornton Jr. was praised on social media for his handling of the situation.
“Even though this catastrophe took place under my watch, and as devastating as it was, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else,” he wrote.
Thornton Jr. said he has been in the field since 2001.
“I’ve dealt with death, murder, and suicide on a constant basis amongst things that most people would never imagine,” he wrote.
All of which prepared him for that moment.
“I got backup to my police officers in a matter of seconds during the time that they needed it the most. I was fortunate enough to have my backup with me from the very beginning all the way until now – His name is God,” his post read.
Thornton Jr. said his phone has been “blowing up” as he continues to receive messages in wake of the shooting and while “it’s a lot to process,” he said it showed him that he is “truly loved.”
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he wrote. “Let’s keep Police Officer Ella French in our prayers and let’s continue to pray for our other true hero who is at the University of Chicago Hospital fighting for his healthy life.”
Thornton Jr. asked those who wish to show him support or “kudos” to “do so by stopping an officer today and offering them a wave, high five, hug or even just a Hello.”
“Our culture has to change,” he said. “Our society has to change. Our mindsets have to change. We as people must change. Do this for me. Do this for her. Do this for our police officers who are hurting each and everyday because many of them feel unsupported, unloved, and on edge. No one wants to live like this and no one should have to work like this.”
Few details have been released on what exactly happened the night French was killed.
Police said three officers stopped a car with three people inside near 63rd Street and Bell, but details surrounding what prompted the traffic stop weren’t immediately released.
When the officers approached the car, one of the vehicle’s occupants opened fire, according to authorities. French was shot in the head and her partner was also shot and remains in critical condition at a Chicago hospital.
The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled French’s death a homicide.
One of the suspects in the case, who police believe to be the gunman, was shot and injured during the confrontation, and was taken into custody. Another suspect was also taken into custody at the scene.
A third suspect was located and arrested early Sunday, according to Chicago police.
Charges are still pending, and interviews are still being conducted, according to authorities. Police said the incident was largely captured on bodycam video but it remained unclear if and when that footage would be released.
“We will #NeverForget the true bravery [Officer French] exemplified as she laid her life down to protect others,” Chicago police tweeted Sunday. “Please hold her family, loved ones and fellow Chicago Police officers in your thoughts as we grieve the loss of this hero.”