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Slain Officer Ella French remembered as bubbly, caring, ‘a great police officer, friend’

Thousands attended her funeral Thursday. Cardinal Blase Cupich led the Mass and called French ‘a woman of empathy for the sufferings of others.’

Officer Ella French’s mother Elizabeth French (in white) and brother Andrew French (left, with beard) stand with other family members and watch as pallbearers carry her casket into St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel for the slain officer’s funeral Thursday.
Officer Ella French’s mother Elizabeth French (in white) and brother Andrew French (left, with beard) stand with other family members and watch as pallbearers carry her casket into St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel for the slain officer’s funeral Thursday.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A gray cloud hung over St. Rita of Cascia Chapel Thursday, and the rains came just as the funeral started for Chicago police Officer Ella French, killed during a traffic stop this month.

“As you can imagine, I’ve been thinking about Ella a lot,” Officer Joshua Blas told the mourners gathered at the church.

Blas was on patrol with French that Saturday night, rushing to the aid of her and Officer Carlos Yanez Jr.

“I do get sad at first because she’s gone, and I do miss her and I will always miss her. And I start thinking about all the fun we had together and all the great memories that I’ll always have of her,” Blas said.

“Those are the memories I will focus on. Those are the memories that make me happy,” Blas said. “Ella, you’re a great police officer, friend and partner. …. I miss you.”

Thousands of people gathered inside and outside the church, 7740 S. Western Ave., where family and friends shared stories of what she was like as a child and the person she grew up to be.

Cardinal Blase Cupich led the funeral Mass, describing French as “a woman of empathy for the sufferings of others.”

French and Yanez were shot after pulling over a vehicle about 9 p.m. near 63rd Street and Bell Avenue on Aug. 7. Someone in the car shot both officers. Police returned fire, hitting at least one suspect.

Yanez, shot twice in the head and once in the shoulder, is continuing to recover.

Blas, who became French’s partner in 2019, said they were total opposites, but ,whenever he was feeling down, she had a way to lift his spirits.

French was “loud, fun and outgoing,” he said, and genuinely wanted to help those in need.

Always “bubbly and smiling,” French loved animals, dogs especially. She couldn’t contain her excitement whenever she spotted a dog – sometimes chasing a stray “up and down blocks” to catch the pooch and take it to a shelter.

For the past week, Blas said, the smallest things reminded him of French. A dog collar. Or banana bread, which she liked to make.

“This makes me think about the little acts of kindness that we can take for granted,” Blas said.

For most of the service, French’s mother, Elizabeth French, stood by her son Andrew French, holding his hand.

When she spoke, she said she was there with only “half my heart” since one of her two children is now dead.

Leading up to the funeral, Elizabeth French had said she wasn’t sure she’d be able to speak. But she read from two pieces she felt perfectly encapsulated how she felt about her daughter.

The first was a letter she wrote to her daughter for one of Ella’s school assignments back in 2002.

The idea was to write about the feelings she had when her child was born, but “Ella was adopted so I wrote about the thoughts and feelings the day Ella came into my life,” Elizabeth French said.

“We sat and played and talked … to get to know each other. Then, you smiled. It was a smile that lit up your face, my home and captured my heart. I knew then that, God willing, you would be my daughter forever.”

She then read “The Dash Poem,” by Lynn Ellis, about the importance of treasuring our loved ones while they are here.

“I close with the words I always told Ella as she headed to into work,” Elizabeth French told the mourners. “Be careful and be safe.”

Officers came from all over to pay tribute to French. Cars from at least a dozen agencies were spotted. Besides the Chicago Police Department, others there included the Elgin, Cicero, Bolingbrook, Berwyn and Riverside police departments, as well as the Cook County sheriff and Illinois State Police.

CPD’s bagpipes and drums kicked off and ended the ceremony as police officers stood at attention and saluted the arrival and exit of French’s casket.

Pallbearers carry the casket for Chicago Police Officer Ella French out of St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel after her funeral Thursday.
Pallbearers carry the casket for Chicago Police Officer Ella French out of St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel after her funeral Thursday.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Outside, those who could not fit inside the chapel watched the service on a big screen.

Many officers had been out in the scorching sun for several hours, in dress uniforms, even before the service began. Some collapsed; at least four officers and a teenager were taken to hospitals suffering heat exhaustion.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown attended but did not speak during the service, offering their condolences afterward. It was the first time in recent memory a Chicago mayor did not speak at the funeral of a police officer killed in the line of duty.

“We’re heartbroken, we’re grief stricken. Many officers feel alone and, yes, some have anger,” Brown said. “But we’ll continue to be courageous, brave, committed and dedicated for Ella to protecting the people of Chicago. I would just ask the people of Chicago to continue to pray for our healing during this time of deep, deep grief.”

During the mass, Cupich talked about the importance of allowing ourselves to grieve and finding a sense of unity to comfort each other.

Lightfoot sounded a similar theme when she spoke to reporters after the service.

“What we think we hoped for, and I hoped for, today, was a simple, a beautiful expression of solidarity and support for the French family, for Ella,” Lightfoot said. “And I also want to remind you to keep Office Yanez and his family in your prayers. … It’s a tough day for our city.”

Yanez’s father, Carlos Yanez Sr., a retired Chicago police officer, talked to the crowd about how for more than a week, they resisted telling his son that French had been killed.

Doctors had worried his son’s brain couldn’t have stand the stress and pain, he said.

Finally, they could wait no longer.

“When he found out a couple days ago, I never saw so much sorrow and pain,” Carlos Yanez Sr. said, crying.

When his son finally could speak, he wanted to say how sorry he is, Yanez Sr. said.

“He feels the pain of the family, and he wishes he could be here.”

Contributing: David Struett

Hundreds of Chicago police officers and other law enforcement officers gather Thursday outside St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel for the funeral of Officer Ella French. French was fatally shot and her partner was critically wounded while in the line of duty on Aug. 7 in West Englewood.
Hundreds of Chicago police officers and other law enforcement officers gather Thursday outside St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel for the funeral of Officer Ella French. French was fatally shot, and her partner was critically wounded while in the line of duty on Aug. 7 in West Englewood.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times