Hundreds mourn ‘well-loved’ Gary patrolman
BY CHRISTIN NANCE LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org July 13, 2014 12:08PM
Officers from various agencies stand at attention as the family of Gary Patrolman Westerfield enter The Genesis Center in Gary on July 13, 2014. | Jim Karczewski/Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 14, 2014 10:56AM
GARY — Hundreds of mourners lined up inside the Genesis Convention Center on Sunday afternoon to express condolences to the family of slain Gary Patrolman Jeffrey Westerfield, exchanging hugs, a few words and clasping hands with the bereaved.
Amid the floral arrangements, the mementoes of a lifetime were on display, from Westerfield’s Little League photos to the births of his four daughters, and even one of him donning bunny ears. A motorcycle jacket reading “Sons of Anarchy Black Oak IN,” CDs by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger and George Thorogood, and his Army induction photos were carefully laid out on tables.
Shortly after 5 a.m. on July 6, Westerfield was found shot to death in his police cruiser — a couple of hours after he followed up on a domestic disturbance call near 26th Avenue and Van Buren Place. Police have a suspect in custody, but no charges have been filed, and the investigation is ongoing. The suspect is being held on a failure to appear warrant from a probation revocation hearing.
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, who is spearheading the investigation, has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of a suspect or suspects in Westerfield’s death.
Westerfield, a 19-year veteran of the department, was described by many as a softspoken officer who could defuse tense situations quickly, a valuable quality in his line of work.
Larry McKinley, a deputy chief with the Gary Police Department, said Westerfield was a very loving person.
“He loved his family very much,” McKinley said. “I met him when his girls were just babies and they would just climb all over him. He was a big teddy bear.”
He had earned the nickname “the Mayor of Black Oak” for his dedication to the neighborhood on Gary’s southwest side, where he lived and patrolled.
“He stood out,” McKinley said. “He loved his community.”
More than 100 law enforcement officers were present from across Northwest Indiana and the Chicago area and beyond — Willowbrook, Illinois; New Chicago, Hammond, Portage, Lake County, the Indiana State Police, and many more.
Westerfield’s family members arrived quietly for the Sunday visitation shortly before 1 p.m. The somber mood was punctuated only by a faint siren as the assembled law enforcement officers stood at attention. The family of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer Perry Renn, who was killed by a gunman July 5 also were present to pay their respects.
Gary Police Chief Wade Ingram said the incident has brought the department closer together. Since Westerfield’s death, Gary has sent out two-man teams to most incidents as a safety precaution.
“It’s a very sad and emotional day in Gary. He was an excellent officer and well loved,” Ingram said. “Like most places, we squabble sometimes, but this has brought out the love we have for each other.”
Gary resident Glenn Smith was shocked by Westerfield’s death.
“It’s a sad day,” Smith said. “I just ran into him two weeks ago.
“He was a brother. He treated everybody nice. He wasn’t black or white; he was for real.”
Gary resident Robert Buggs, who served in the military and was a police officer, knew Westerfield well and he wanted to salute his life and service.
“I can’t get past the fact that last Sunday was his (47th) birthday and he was going to get married to his fiancee in a few months,” Buggs said. “All of that is gone in a moment.”
Westerfield’s funeral service is to be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the Genesis Convention Center, and following a procession down Broadway, he is to be buried at Chapel Lawn Cemetery in Schererville.
An officer will guard Westerfield’s casket during the service. Since Westerfield was removed from the crime scene last Sunday, an officer has stood vigil over him.
Organizers are expecting between 600 and 1,000 law enforcement personnel and hundreds of others at the Monday funeral service, so heavy traffic is likely in the vicinity of 4th Avenue and Broadway. As a result, several traffic restrictions will be in effect before, during and after Monday’s funeral service, so organizers advised drivers to avoid the area unless they will be attending the funeral.
Between 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., one lane of through traffic will be open on 5th Avenue, between Madison and Broadway, and on 4th Avenue, between Massachusetts and Madison. Also, only one lane of northbound traffic will be open on Broadway, between 4th and 5th Avenue; that stretch will be closed to all southbound traffic.
The Broadway exit on the Indiana Toll Road will be closed between 12:15 and 2:30 p.m. as the large funeral procession is expected to wind its way through Gary, Merrillville and Schererville during that time. The Broadway exit on Interstate 94 also will be closed during that time, and long delays are expected along the funeral route.
Westerfield’s funeral procession route will head west on 4th Avenue, then south on Buchanan Street, before heading east on 5th Avenue, and then south on Broadway for a long stretch. Eventually, it will head west on U.S. 30 and south on Cline Avenue before it arrives at Chapel Lawn.
Westerfield, an Army veteran, will be buried with several military touches, including a 21-gun salute, a bugle playing “Taps,” a flag-folding ceremony and presentation of the flag to his family.