A long procession of police cars, blue lights flashing, escorted ambulances carrying the bodies of two Chicago police officers to the morgue early Tuesday, hours after they were struck and killed by a train while answering a call of shots fired on the Far South Side.
As the ambulances turned into the parking lot, they drove under a large U.S. flag hoisted by a fire truck — a scene that had also played out just a month ago when another Chicago police officer was killed in the line of duty.
Officers Eduardo Marmolejo, 36, and Conrad Gary, 31, were conducting surveillance after a ShotSpotter sensor picked up gunfire near 103rd Street and Dauphin Avenue around 6:20 p.m. Monday, police officials said.
They spotted a suspect scrambling up to the Metra tracks and were pursuing him when they were hit by an outbound South Shore train, according to police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
Police recovered a weapon near where the officers were struck and were questioning a person of interest late Monday, Guglielmi said. Officers also found shell casings near the scene of the original shots fired call.
"These brave young men were consumed with identifying a potential threat," police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters at a news conference late Monday at the department headquarters.
Both officers were fathers with young children. Marmolejo had been on the force 2½ years and Gary 18 months, he said.
They were assigned to the Calumet police district, which covers several Far South Side neighborhoods. Johnson said the pair were working as partners Monday night.
“I am deeply saddened by this tragic event and ask that everyone keep their [families] and co-workers in their thoughts and prayers,” Johnson said. “An investigation is underway, and we will keep everyone updated as details emerge.”
The officers’ deaths were similar to an incident on the West Side in 2002 when Officer Benjamin Perez was fatally struck by a Metra train on an embankment while conducting an investigation.
Four Chicago police officers have been killed on duty this year.
On Nov. 19, Officer Samuel Jimenez, 28, was killed in a mass shooting at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center. Two other people, Dr. Tamara O’Neal, 38, and pharmacist Dayna Less, 24, were also killed before the gunman shot himself.
On Feb. 13, Cmdr. Paul Bauer, 53, was fatally shot while chasing a suspect.
Three other officers have died in the Calumet District this year. Two died from suicides outside the district’s police station on East 111th Street. The third officer, 47-year-old Vinita Williams, died in July after collapsing at the station.
Johnson said the department is sending chaplains and counselors to the district.
The superintendent said the district "had to deal with tragedy after tragedy this year. But the resolve of Chicago police officers always amazes me ... They're going to strap up, put on their uniforms and go out tonight to keep this city safe."
The deaths of Marmolejo and Gary mark the first time in almost 30 years that two Chicago police officers were killed in the line of duty during the same incident.
Grand Central District Officers Raymond Kilroy and Gregory Hauser were fatally shot on May 13, 1990, while responding to a domestic disturbance on the Northwest Side. They were scuffling with Roman Chavez when he grabbed Hauser’s gun and shot both officers. Chavez is serving a life sentence.
As Chicago police officers expanded the area of the crime scene on the tracks Monday evening, a rail car remained stopped on the overpass. Nearby, bystanders outside a Popeye’s restaurant walked or ran to the tracks, some ducking under the yellow police tape.
A woman said she had been at her home nearby when she saw police officers driving through alleys west of the tracks. Less than an hour later, officers swarmed the area and a police helicopter hovered overhead.
“I'm going to pray for their families. That's all I can do. And then these people on the train, trying to get home," said the woman, who asked not to be identified.
Brianna Medina caught the train at Millennium station with plans to get off at Hegewisch. It left minutes before 6 p.m. and stopped unexpectedly about a half hour later, she said.
"It kind of felt like rocks, and it sounded like it was hitting rocks," she said. People near her didn't seem to react, figuring something was wrong but not knowing what, she said.
"We were just sitting there in silence," Medina said. "About two hours later, someone finally told us what was going on.
"Obviously you feel for the families," Medina said. "Before knowing, I was kind of just upset that I couldn't go home, but then after finding out you really — you feel sympathetic toward them. It's not about you anymore, it's about what happened."
Like Medina, another passenger, Tiffany Johnson, said finding out why the train had stopped "drastically” changed her feelings about the situation.
"It started buzzing that someone got hit by the train," she said. "That rumor escalated to two people got hit by the train... a young man that was on the train, he actually has a friend that's CPD, so that's how the people in my area got the information.
"To find out that these people were doing their job, and just to have that happen — I’m just glad that I'm making it home and I just hope and pray that the families, [that] they're all right," Johnson said.
Chicago Tribune’s David Heinzmann contributed.