Samuel Jimenez met Crystal Garcia in freshman year of high school. They fell instantly and deeply in love.
The couple married last December and were looking forward to their first anniversary in a few weeks.
Jimenez, 28, was a family man who talked about his kids and his wife constantly. He wanted to be someone they were proud of.
“Ever since we were little he always said he was going to be a firefighter or a cop,” his brother, Antonio, said. “He wanted to be able to save lives and do something his kids could look up to.”
Garcia described her feelings for her husband in a Facebook post in January:
“I don’t know who I am … without you.”
Jimenez’s relatives are trying to make sense of life without the Chicago Police officer, who was one of three people killed when he responded to a shooting at Mercy Hospital in Bronzeville on Monday. He raced to the scene before being killed when police got into a gunfight with Juan Lopez. Lopez died in the gunfight after he fatally shot his ex-fiancee, Dr. Tamara O’Neal, and Dayna Less, a pharmacy resident at the hospital.
On Tuesday, tributes poured in for Jimenez, who grew up in Logan Square. The youngest of nine siblings, his parents were from Puerto Rico.
They attended Salmon P. Chase elementary school.
“We are huge wrestling fans and that’s all we did growing up,” Antonio Jimenez said. “We had put so many holes in our bedroom walls but we hid it from our mother by putting posters over the damages. Then we had to move, and that was when my mother found over $400 worth of damages to our room. She flipped out but looking back it didn’t matter because we loved it so much.”
Cousin Maria Saturnina Salgado, 51, saidJimenez always was smiling and wanted to project his happiness onto others, Salgado said. Whenever she or her daughters were down, he would dress in a funny way or do something else to make them smile.
On the morning of Thanksgiving every year, the families would get together and play football — and return home filthy. But the game was something they loved playing, she said.
Later, Jimenez played football at Foreman College and Career Academy. He was also a member of the swim team.
Football coach Peter Grazzini said Jimenez wasn’t the best player on the field, but he was a hardworking teammate who played on the offensive and defensive lines.
“He always had a big, curly Puerto Rican afro with a bright smile on his face,” Grazzini recalled. “He was hardworking, conscientious and a team-first player.”
He graduated in 2009.
More recently, shortly after joining the Chicago Police Department, Jimenez took a trip back to his former high school to show off his new uniform to Grazzini. Jimenez told Grazzini he wanted to give back to his community any way he could now that he was a police officer.
Grazzini said the Foreman community is at a loss of how to respond to the tragedy.
“Unfortunately his [journey] came to an end too soon,” Grazzini said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that a woman with three kids just lost her life partner of 12 years.”
Jimenez met his wife, Crystal Garcia, when the two were freshmen in high school and they fell instantly in love, said Salgado. The couple married last December in a religious ceremony in Chicago, according to sources. The couple had two biological children and were raising a child of another one of his brothers, Salgado said.
Records indicate the couple was living in an apartment on the Far Northwest Side. They also own a home in Franklin Park. Garcia works for the Illinois Secretary of State’s office.
Salgado said Jimenez “wanted to make Chicago a better place.”
Co-workers said the friend they called “Sammy” brought his love of family to the job as a police officer, too, gushing about his young daughters and looking forward to heading home to play the video game Fortnite with his son, who is about 13.
“He loved his kids more than anything in this world,” said Anthony Jahns, who graduated from police academy with Jimenez. “They were everything to him.”
Jahns joined about a dozen academy classmates of Jimenez on Tuesday night in Edison Park, where hundreds of supporters packed the Firewater Saloon to pay tribute to the slain officer and raise money for his family.
Like most fresh-faced recruits, Daniel Lazzara remembered feeling anxious on his first day in class, until the gregarious Jimenez reached out a hand and asked Lazzara where he was from. The Edison Park connection was quick, with Lazzara a resident and Jimenez a longtime worker at a few neighborhood restaurants.
“There he was with a smile on his face. He made things easier,” Lazzara said, recalling the noted gym rat as “the strongest guy, not just mentally but physically.”
“And for people who weren’t as strong, he would take them and help them out,” Lazzara said.
Krzysztof Gorzelany said he and Jimenez were usually the first ones in the academy gym in the morning. In the months since graduating, they and the other recruits kept in touch on Facebook, holding out hope they might be assigned to work with each other one day.
“He was the type of person where if you had a bad day, he knew what to say, he had the right words. He made time for you,” Gorzelany said.
Shortly before graduation, Jimenez brought his entire family to an academy event and introduced them to his friends, according to Lazzara.
“To see how proud they were of him, and how proud he was of them, I couldn’t put into words how happy they were,” Lazzara said.
A memorial for Jimenez is planned at his old high school at 3235 N. Leclaire Ave. at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Contributing: Robert Herguth, Tim Novak