Gold Star family Christmas tree lighting helps girl embrace father she never knew

Chicago Police Office Eduardo Marmolejo died in the line of duty when Sofia was only 3.

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Officer Eduardo Marmolejo with his wife, Maria, and daughters Rebeca, Madalyn and Sofia.

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A Christmas Story …

On Dec. 9, 6-year-old Sofia Marmolejo helped light the Gold Star family Christmas tree at the Chicago police memorial wall.

Shortly before, little Sofia had finally been able to read her father’s name on a star-encased wall at Chicago police headquarters.

You can guess where we are going with this. 

Sofia’s dad, Chicago Police Officer Eduardo Marmolejo, 36, had been killed while on duty, the victim of an unseen moving train while attempting to stop a teenager with a stolen gun haphazardly shooting at trains going the other way. 

“Sofia was only 3 when her father was killed,” said her mother, Maria, the mother of two older daughters. 

“She was so little, a child who never really knew her father until she knew an alphabet enabling her to read her dad’s name, to take ownership of it. To say: ‘This is my dad!’ ”

It was on Dec. 17, 2018 — Christmastime — when Sofia’s father was killed. 

“It was 6:15 p.m. when my husband called en route to buy a Christmas present for his mother; moments later he was summoned to 103rd Street to shots fired on the train tracks of a northbound train. 

“My husband and his partner, Conrad Gary, 31, were killed by a southbound train they didn’t see.”

“He was a kind, patient, doting father now lost to one little girl who never knew his voice; who never was able to take her to her first day of school; never enjoy life with him like her older sisters, Rebeca, 19, and Madalyn, 13, did,” she said, describing her youngest child as one who only knows her father via questions she asks: What was his favorite color? What color were his eyes? What was his favorite sport? And was he funny?

“She refers to her late father as ‘papa’ when my two older children always called him ‘daddy,’ ” said Marmolejo.

Two weeks ago, when little Sofia stood next to the Gold Star tree “she seemed to finally take ownership of the dad she never knew. She was proud. When Sofia placed an ornament on the tree for her dad, she seemed to say, finally: “This is my dad!” 

“Every wife of a first responder is going to be scared; always worried … and then you are alone to piece it all together and make something of it,” she said.

“We are going to lose people. I couldn’t wrap my mind around my husband’s death; the way he died. ... He didn’t die in a fight or by a bullet. But he did sacrifice his life.

“Life can change instantly,” said Marmolejo, who quit the corporate world to devote full time to her daughters following her husband’s death, and a year ago became chairwoman of the CPD’s Gold Star Families. 

“Moving forward is what life is all about,” she said. “Even if it’s baby steps. And my little girl placing an ornament on a tree symbolic of her dad’s sacrifice is putting a step forward, no matter how small,” she said. 

Merry Christmas … everyone. 

Sneedlings … Saturday birthdays: TV host Ryan Seacrest, 48, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, 82. Sunday birthdays: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 51; singer Annie Lennox, 68; actress Sissy Spacek, 73, and Chicago police chaplain Rabbi Moshe Wolf and former Sun-Times columnist Bill Zwecker, both ageless.

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