Police officer killed serving arrest warrant in Frankford

Cpl. James O’Connor IV, 46, died after being shot early Friday morning on the 1600 block of Bridge Street in Frankford.

Cpl. James O’Connor IV

By Jack Tomczuk and Melissa Komar

By Jack Tomczuk and Melissa Komar

Funeral services are set for Thursday and Friday for a Philadelphia police officer killed last Friday morning while serving a fugitive arrest warrant for a murder suspect in Frankford.

Members of the SWAT team and a fugitive squad entered a property on the 1600 block of Bridge Street, right down the street from Frankford Transportation Center, just before 6 a.m. Officers were met by gunfire through a closed door on the second floor, authorities said.

Cpl. James O’Connor IV, 46, was struck near his left shoulder blade. He was pronounced dead minutes later at Temple University Hospital.

“It’s a very sad day, not just for officers here, but it’s a very sad day for the family who was here and who was mourning and still trying to stomach all this now,” Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said outside the hospital.

“It’s a tough job, and they do the best for us every day,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “It’s just a bad day.”

O’Connor, a 23-year veteran of the department, spent 15 years as a member of the SWAT team and was married with two adult children. His son, James V, is an officer in the 9th District, and his daughter, Kelsey, is an active duty member of the U.S. Air Force.

“We certainly know when we put this uniform on, that it could be the last time that we see our loved ones,” Outlaw said. “It takes a special person to do this job, and that’s who this corporal was.”

Another SWAT officer returned fire, hitting two civilians, who were transported to the hospital in stable condition.

O’Connor and the other officers were serving a warrant for 21-year-old Hassan Elliott, according to the District Attorney’s Office. Elliott, who was not shot, was arrested, and charged with the March 1, 2019 murder and robbery of Tyree Tyrone, 33, on the 5300 block of Duffield St. in Frankford.

Two others were transported to the homicide unit, police said.

It’s not yet clear who fired the bullet that killed O’Connor.

“These officers didn’t get a chance,” Outlaw said. “The gunfire happened immediately as soon as they walked in the door.”

Condolences for O’Connor’s family and friends poured in throughout the day from city leaders, elected officials, fellow officers and other law enforcement agencies.

“The prosecutors and staff of the District Attorney’s Office and I join the city of Philadelphia in expressing our heartbreak over the murder of Police Cpl. James O’Connor while on duty,” said DA Larry Krasner.

O’Connor is the first city police officer killed since 2015, when Sgt. Robert Wilson III was gunned down in North Philadelphia.

“This morning’s shooting is a reminder of the dangers men and women in law enforcement face every day and the sacrifices they make to keep our communities safe,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement.

O’Connor “was murdered for doing his job – serving and protecting the people of Philadelphia,” U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said. “The monster who murdered Cpl. O’Connor must be aggressively prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And Congress needs to do more to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals.”

State Sen. Christine Tartaglione, whose district includes the 1600 block of Bridge Street, told residents it is time to unite as a community.

“Words cannot express the grief I feel for the corporal’s family, colleagues, and loved ones,” she said on Facebook. “I am also sad for the proud residents of Frankford who have been forced to live amid violent crime for far too long.”

From 1988 to 1992, O’Connor attended Northeast Catholic High School, where he played soccer all four years, and lived on Coral Street in Kensington during his attendance, according to former head coach Tom Ciolko.

“He was a quiet kid who enjoyed being around his teammates. He was a hard worker. And, he never complained about anything. He was a really nice kid,”  Ciolko said. “We didn’t just lose another police officer. We lost a good man.”

Jerry Brindisi was the assistant coach during O’Connor’s playing days.

“He was a back and midfielder. He came down to Norphans Day years later,” Brindisi said. “He was just a great kid. I saw him at Byrne’s [Tavern] every once in a while. And, he was just your regular, blue-collar hero.”

William Hunter, 58, is a 29-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department and spent about five years working alongside O’Connor on the SWAT team.

“Jimmy was very easygoing. Even though he was the supervisor, …you would never know. He was just a natural leader and just a fun guy to be around,” he said. “And, the one thing about Jimmy was, you were the most important person there. You and your safety were more important to him than anything else.”

Hunter, who also attended North Catholic and was the former wrestling coach, spoke about the bond among SWAT officers in the city.

“Other than my North Catholic brotherhood, being a part of the SWAT team is probably the most unique brotherhood I’ve ever been part of, outside of my own immediate family. We train together, we’ve seen this type of tragedy together, we hunt down murderers together,” he said. “You really bond when you do stuff like that. This hit really hard. I’m absolutely stunned. I’m numb.”

O’Connor’s passing provided a moment of reflection, in many ways for Hunter.

“It really makes you reflect and look back and realize what’s important and what’s not important,” he said. “The most important thing to Jimmy was family. He was a great father. I feel terrible for his family. Jimmy is a hero. He’s always going to be remembered as a hero, the way he should be.”    ••

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, 11630 Caroline Road, will host Benefit for our Hero in memory of Cpl. James O’Connor on Friday, March 20, from 6 to 10 p.m.

O’Connor, of the SWAT unit, was shot and killed on Friday morning as he served an arrest warrant for a murder suspect at a home at 1688 Bridge St. in a downtrodden section of Frankford.

The cost is $30 and will include food, draft beer, wine, a DJ and well drinks. Memorial T-shirts will be sold.

All proceeds will go to O’Connor’s family.