Chicago police officer was shot and killed in front of kids playing at school: ‘They ran as quickly as possible just to get to safety’

‘There were a lot of kids because it happened in front of the school,’ said a witness who called 911. ‘And they go there to play. And we thought it was safe, so we would go and let them play there. But now it’s changed.’

SHARE Chicago police officer was shot and killed in front of kids playing at school: ‘They ran as quickly as possible just to get to safety’
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Officer Andres Vasquez-Lasso

Chicago Police Department

A shooting that claimed the life of a Chicago police officer unfolded in front of children playing at a grade school in Gage Park, sending them scurrying behind slides and whatever else they could find for cover, according to witnesses.

“There were a lot of kids because it happened in front of the school,” said a woman who called 911. “And they go there to play. And we thought it was safe, so we would go and let them play there. But now it’s changed.”

Officer Andres Vasquez-Lasso, 32, was shot several times as he chased an armed suspect about 4:45 p.m. Wednesday in the 5200 block of South Spaulding Avenue, across the street from Sawyer Elementary School.

The woman said her 10-year-old sister was playing with other kids when they saw the suspect, identified by police as 18-year-old Steven Montano, pull a gun on Vasquez-Lasso. As the girl called her family, she and the other children heard gunfire and “ran as quickly as possible just to get to safety,” the woman said.

“I feel sorry for the loss of the police officer’s family and his colleagues and friends,” the woman said, asking not to be named out of concern for her safety. “But I’m glad they were there to keep my sister safe and her friends.”

Despite his wounds, Vasquez-Lasso was able to return fire and shot Montano in the head, according to police. Montano was reported in critical condition at Stroger Hospital.

Late Thursday, police announced he was charged with felony counts of first-degree murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm near a school, as well as misdemeanor counts of simple assault and interfering with reporting domestic violence.

Vasquez-Lasso was taken to Mount Sinai Medical Center, where he died and where a large contingent of officers somberly gathered to pay their respects through the night before his body was taken by procession to the Cook County morgue on the West Side.

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A Chicago police officer wears a thin blue line band across his police star in memory of Officer Andres Vasquez-Lasso at a vigil Thursday at Hale Park. Vasquez-Lasso, 32, was shot several times as he pursued an armed suspect Wednesday afternoon in Gage Park.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Maria Dávila said she was watching a movie on her phone in her home when the shooting happened. It was nice out and kids were hanging out at the school playground across the street. She heard a loud noise and “thought it was fireworks at first,” said Dávila, 44.

She went to the window and saw Montano down in a parking lot next to the playground, holding his chest and shouting, and another man — Vasquez-Lasso — lying closer to the playground and not moving.

“Shoot me, shoot me,” she said Montano yelled at a second officer who was standing between him and Vasquez-Lasso.

Behind them, several of the kids hid in a knot of blue slides and yellow panels decorated with fish. “For almost 20 minutes they were there, watching all that was happening,” Dávila said.

By the time she got downstairs, officers had carried Vasquez-Lasso to a squad car where they tried to administer CPR. His body appeared limp.

“We’re still scared,” Dávila said Thursday. “It affected me to see that.”

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A police officer who worked in the same district as Andres Vasquez-Lasso hugs a mourner near a memorial outside Sawyer Elementary School in the Gage Park neighborhood.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

‘He was always smiling’

Vasquez-Lasso was married, and he and his wife had just moved into a home in Marquette Park a little over a year ago, according to a neighbor, Sara Montemayor.

“I just saw them the day before out walking their dog,” said Montemayor, 34. “It’s hard knowing that happened to a neighbor.”

Vasquez-Lasso was shot just 2 1/2 miles from his home. On Thursday morning, four police officers from the Chicago Lawn Police District arrived at the scene of the shooting with flowers for a memorial.

“We’re out here to pay our respects to our brother in blue,” said one of the officers, who declined to give her name.

She said the four of them worked an earlier shift than Vasquez-Lasso and only knew him in passing, but knew he was bright and on the rise.

“He was always smiling,” the officer said.

The mother and father of another Chicago Lawn Police District officer arrived to light a candle for Vasquez-Lasso. They said their son knew him.

The mother said they felt they had to come out because, “For me, they’re all my sons. They’re all important to me, and I carry them in my heart and in my prayers.”

The couple lives nearby, and when she heard the sirens and the helicopters and saw the news, she feared the worst.

“It was terrifying,” she said.

She said she called her son and was relieved when he picked up the phone, but was devastated to hear what had happened and to know what had happened to another mother.

“We have sons that every day put their life on the line. We know that they leave, but we don’t know if they’re going to come back,” she said.

An officer from the neighboring Deering Police District drove by as well. He wasn’t working and wanted to come by to pay his respects. The officer joined the force a short time before Chicago Police Officer Ella French was killed in 2021.

“Stuff like this, it’s scary,” he said. “Policing is real.”

Thursday night, hundreds of people, including Vasquez-Lasso’s widow, Milena, and dozens of police officers, gathered at Hale Park on the Southwest Side for a solemn prayer vigil to honor the memory of Vasquez-Lasso.

Mourners carried candles and prayed for his family. Flowers and candles were arranged around photographs of Vasquez-Lasso at a memorial at the park.

“I knew Andres for a long time, and I would have liked that this reunion be for something like a birthday, or Christmas,” John, a close friend of the officer’s said in Spanish through tears. “But it’s God showing us that in this moment we have to be more united. I thank God for letting me get to know Andres for many years. He was always a proper man, and today we come together to honor him. I hope God gives him rest, that God takes care of his soul and that he is in a better place.”

John urged Vasquez-Lasso’s loved ones and friends to come together and show support for the officer’s family during this terrible time.

“Sometimes life isn’t what you think it is. But at this moment we need a lot of strength for his family,” he said. “Not just for now but in the long run. Because I know that it’s not easy for his mom, losing a son is never easy for a mom.”

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Candles were lighted for Officer Andres Vasquez-Lasso, a husband and father who was shot and killed while pursuing a domestic violence suspect Wednesday in Gage Park.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Background of suspect

Montano is scheduled to appear at a bail hearing Friday. Police have provided little information about him, saying only that he had a record of one prior arrest.

Records show he was arrested near two handguns last summer after running from a stolen car that was wanted in a shooting.

He was charged at the time with a misdemeanor count of resisting or obstructing a peace officer, which was dropped months later. The arrest report notes that felony charges were denied by prosecutors, though it doesn’t provide further details. A teenage boy was charged in the shooting, and another man was hit with gun charges, according to police.

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Steven Montano, 18, is charged in the killing of Officer Andres Vasquez-Lasso on March 1, 2023. Montano was previously arrested last July after running from a stolen car that was wanted in a shooting, but the only charge he faced was dropped.

Chicago police

A stolen Honda Accord had been used in the shooting in the 2600 block of West 23rd Place around 8:10 p.m. on July 28. A 27-year-old man suffered two gunshot wounds to his left leg, the report states.

The victim and witnesses reported that the Accord was occupied by three people, and the driver was seen wearing a mask while fleeing the scene, the report states. Later that night, officers tried to stop the car near 26th and Whipple streets, but it took off and led cops and state troopers on a chase.

The Accord was pulled over in the 7400 block of South Parnell Avenue, at which point Montano and the two other suspects ran off, the report states. Montano was found under a porch in a backyard in the same block and taken into custody.

Two loaded handguns were found nearby “in the direct path of the offenders [sic] from the vehicle,” according to the report, which identified Montano as a member of the Latin Kings street gang.

A helicopter was overhead during the arrests but didn’t capture Montano holding any guns on video, sources said. One of his co-defendants, Rodrigo Ramirez, was seen throwing guns on the ground.

A 15-year-old boy was charged with felony counts of aggravated battery with a firearm and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, as well as a misdemeanor count of criminal trespass to a vehicle. Ramirez, 22, was charged with felony counts of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and attempting to flee, along with a misdemeanor count of resisting or obstructing a peace officer.

The state’s attorney’s office said in a statement that Montano was not charged with a felony “because the evidence does not support a charge of gun possession.”

“Based on his age and lack of criminal history at that time, [he] was offered an alternative to traditional prosecution, which included 25 hours of independent community service,” it said. “Defendant completed the 25 hours ... and the case was dismissed on 11/17/22.”

The owner of the stolen Honda said she found it “creepy” that one of the suspects in the theft of her car is now accused of killing a police officer. “The youth in Chicago get away with this stuff, and they do it again and again and again,” she told the Sun-Times.

The woman, who did not want to be named, said she “woke up in the morning, and my car was gone.”

When she got it back from police, “Bullet holes were in it,” she said.

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Officer Andres Vasquez-Lasso’s widow, Milena, right, cries at a vigil Thursday night at Hale Park on the Southwest Side. Hundreds of mourners, including several dozen police officers, attended the gathering.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

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