CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) – Two men have been charged with the fatal shooting of Cook County Sheriff’s Officer Cuauhtemoc Estrada after he tried to stop a robbery in Bellwood.
Gage Thornton and Brandon Jackson, both 22, are charged with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted armed robbery, said Andre Harvey, director of public safety for the Bellwood Police Department.
Estrada, 50, was getting ready for a family gathering when he walked outside and saw the armed men trying to rob his daughter and her boyfriend. Police said Estrada identified himself and tried to intervene.
After Estrada was shot, his son grabbed his gun and fired in the direction of the robbers to protect his sister but missed, Hector Santamaria, a relative, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
The father of four and grandfather of three was pronounced dead around 9:15 p.m. outside a VFW hall in the 200 block of 30th Avenue.
Bellwood detectives were able to identify Jackson and Thornton via surveillance footage outside where Estrada was shot, Harvey said.
“[Thornton and Jackson] have a little background – thefts, gang related activity, burglaries from garages – that sort of stuff,” Harvey said. “Our detectives recognized them and went to their home.”
Both Jackson and Thornton were arrested Saturday about 6 a.m. at Jackson’s family home in the 200 block of 30th Avenue.
“He won’t be able to see me walking across the stage when I graduate from college,” Estrada’s daughter Cristina Estrada, 19, wearing a pendant in the shape of her father’s badge around her neck, told NBC5 in tears outside the family home in Maywood. “He was just a good person, a father. He was always there for us. He just wanted us to succeed in life.”
Estrada’s family remembered him Saturday as a “beautiful person” who loved organizing family get-togethers and helped start Maywood’s Festival Azteca.
“He was generally well-known throughout the community — one of the go-to people when you wanted to talk to a Hispanic person in the community,” said former Maywood police Chief Tim Curry, a friend of more than 20 years. “His family should know he was an important person to this community.”
Festival Azteca — which Estrada and his family founded to celebrate Mexican Independence Day — started out as a family block party in the 1990s and has grown into a three-day festival at Veterans Memorial Maywood Park, said Benny Delgado, 62, a friend of Estrada for more than 20 years.
“He worked very hard and gave lots of hours to fund Festival Azteca, and he organized the festival for many years without making any money,” Delgado said. “They wanted the celebration for the Mexican community.”
Deglado said Estrada would help other Hispanics with legal matters such as traffic violations and other court matters. In some cases, he’d go to court and translate for them.
Estrada worked as an investigator for the sheriff’s police for more than two decades, most recently in the electronic monitoring unit, and was a former U.S. Marine.
“He was an exceptional investigator but an even better man who loved his family, his friends and his country,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said. “Quite simply, he made this world a better place and will be missed by all whose lives he touched.”
A procession of more than a dozen vehicles followed an ambulance with Estrada’s body from Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood to the county medical examiner’s office at 2121 W. Harrison St.
Bellwood police, Illinois State Police and Cook County sheriff’s police are investigating.