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Man suspected in off-duty Chicago cop’s killing once applied to be cop, sources say

Chicago Police investigate the scene where an off-duty officer was fatally shot near Huron and Clark. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A 24-year-old man who is in custody as the main suspect in the slaying of a Chicago police officer over the weekend once applied to be a Chicago cop himself but that ended when he was arrested in a home invasion, sources said.Police sources said the man who is suspected of fatally shooting Chicago Police Officer John Rivera was in police custody Sunday night — one of three men questioned in the young officer’s slaying.

In 2017, the suspect allegedly sneaked into his former girlfriend’s South Side home and threatened to kill her, sources told the Sun-Times. She tipped officers that he was an applicant to the Chicago Police Department, and they arrested him at the police academy.

He pleaded guilty to attempted burglary and received probation, sources said.

On Sunday evening, Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi declined to comment on whether the suspected shooter previously applied to work on the police force.

“What’s put out in the public domain could influence what a person tells detectives or perhaps influences them not to speak to police whatsoever,” Guglielmi said. “All of those have an undermining effect on the criminal investigation. But as soon as interrogations are completed and we’ve presented our case, we are going to have a full public accounting.”

Guglielmi said at least three people are currently being held for questioning in connection with Rivera’s slaying.

On Sunday night, sources said police were searching for a fourth man to question in connection with the killing of Rivera, who was the nephew of Juan Rivera, a retired chief of the Police Department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs.

“We are making exceptional progress in the investigation,” said Guglielmi, who added that investigators were “locking individuals into statements” and corroborating details about the case.

Guglielmi said charges could be filed as early as Monday.

Rivera and another male officer went to the popular River North nightlife district after finishing work on Friday night, Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said Saturday.

About 3:30 a.m., the officers and two friends left the Stout Barrel House & Pizzeria and got into a Honda Accord that was parked in the nearby 700 block of North Clark, police said. Three males then approached Rivera and the others and, without saying anything, one of them pulled out a gun and fired multiple shots into the car.

John Rivera | Provided by Neko Castillo
John Rivera | Provided by Neko Castillo

Rivera was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital with gunshot wounds to his chest, arm and mouth. He was pronounced dead about 20 minutes later, according to police and the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

An autopsy performed Sunday found he died from multiple gunshot wounds, and his death was ruled a homicide, the medical examiner’s office said. He lived in the Hegewisch neighborhood.

A 23-year-old man who was sitting behind Rivera was struck in his chest and arms, police said. The man, who is not a police officer, was in critical-but-stable condition after undergoing surgery on Saturday morning.

The other off-duty officer and a woman in the car were not hurt, police said.

Nearby surveillance footage appears to show the group targeting Rivera’s car, police said. On Saturday, Supt. Johnson said the shooting appears to be an “unprovoked attack.”

But police are reportedly looking at whether there’s a link between Rivera’s killing and a fight earlier in the evening between the suspect and other people at the McDonald’s at Clark and Ohio. Sources said they’re not sure if Rivera had any part in the earlier altercation.

Rivera, a Gresham District patrolman, was just two months from reaching his two-year anniversary as a Chicago cop.

His neighbor, U.S. Navy veteran and retired Chicago Police Sgt. John Sanchez, told the Sun-Times that Rivera “knew he wanted to be a police officer early on.”

“Regardless of if I told him bad things, [Rivera would say] ‘No, I gotta still be the police,’” Sanchez said.

Visitation for Rivera will be held between 3 and 9 p.m. Thursday at Elmwood Chapel at 11200 S. Ewing Ave. His funeral will be held at 9:15 a.m. Friday at the chapel and a funeral mass will follow at 10 a.m. at the Church of the Annunciata at 11128 S. Avenue G.