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Cop who witnessed apparent suicide of fellow officer ‘devastated,’ official says

A bouquet of flowers is hung with crime scene tape against a gate in an alley where a female police officer was fatally shot Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, off the 900 block of South Bell in the Tri-Taylor neighborhood. | Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

An off-duty Chicago police officer who was in a vehicle with a fellow officer as she allegedly took her own life Saturday was “devastated” by the experience and has been “fully cooperative” with an investigation of the death, a police spokesman said.

The 47-year-old sergeant — identified by the Cook County Medical Examiner as Lori Rice — died from what officials said was a self-inflicted gunshot wound around 9:30 p.m. near her home in the 900 block of South Bell, after the two officers left an event together. The other officer, also a sergeant, is on bereavement leave, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Tuesday.

“It’s immensely tragic,” Guglielmi said. “It’s indescribable to witness something like that happen to a friend and a fellow officer.”

The department is treating the shooting as a “death investigation” pending the findings of the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. That finding could take weeks, as officials await the result of toxicology and other reports, said spokeswoman Natalia Derevyanny.

Rice worked in the 12th District and had recently moved to the area, neighbors said. Police at the scene Saturday night initially described the shooting to reporters as a “domestic-related incident” and said a suspect was in custody.

But hours later, another department spokesman said that description was incorrect and said the gunshot appeared to be self-inflicted. No one, the spokesman said, had been taken into police custody.

First responders congregate in an alley off the 900 block of South Bell where an off-duty female Chicago police officer was found fatally shot Saturday night. | Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times
First responders congregate in an alley off the 900 block of South Bell where an off-duty female Chicago police officer was found fatally shot Saturday night. | Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

Still, both officers’ hands were tested for gunshot residue, Guglielmi said, and the investigation remains ongoing. Tuesday night, police in plain clothes and in unmarked cars could be seen outside her home. They declined comment.

Rice had been married to an officer who retired from CPD in 2016, amid disciplinary hearings that could have led to his firing. Her husband filed a divorce petition in mid-January, claiming irreconcilable differences, court records indicate.

Already this year, another CPD officer, 36-year-old Dane Smith, killed himself at his Jefferson Park home on New Year’s Day.

Guglielmi said the department’s Employee Assistance Program was offering counseling to officers. In a 2017 report on the CPD by the U.S. Department of Justice, mental health support for officers was cited among many problems with the department. At the time, CPD had three psychologists to provide services to more than 13,000 department employees, and the suicide rate among CPD officers was 60 percent higher than the already elevated suicide rate for police officers nationwide, the report stated.

A consent decree the department entered to settle a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general mandates the department to increase that staffing to 10 clinicians by 2020, and that officers would have to wait no longer than two weeks for a counseling appointment, and could get emergency help within 24 hours.

Contributing: Matthew Hendrickson