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Latina Police Hero 

Trailblazer of the Day | Thursday, September 19, 2013

Officer Irma C. Ruíz

1948 – 1988
First Illinois Latina Law Enforcement Officer Killed in the Line of Duty

This week, we observe a tragic milestone. On September 22, 1988 – 25 years ago – Chicago Police Officer Irma Ruíz was shot to death, becoming the first Latina law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty in Illinois. She was also the third female Chicago Police Officer to die on the job.

Born Irma Yañez on February 17, 1948, Ruíz was one of eight children. After marrying Peter Ruíz, Irma decided to become a police officer, and - despite her husband’s concerns that police work was too dangerous - graduated from the Academy in 1976.

Assigned to the Harrison District Youth Division, Ruíz gained a reputation for her ability to win the confidence of local young people and even took it upon herself to tutor students about the United States Constitution. During her 12 years on the force, she earned commendations and honorable mentions for her police work on some of Chicago’s toughest streets. All the while, she remained devoted to her family, never letting her job keep her from her four children’s school events.

On the morning of September 22, 1988, local resident Clem Henderson - a Vietnam veteran with a lengthy arrest record - headed for Moses Montefiore Elementary School at 13th and Ashland after killing two workers at the auto parts shop next door. Henderson murdered the school custodian outside and entered the school where 19 teachers and 152 students had already begun classes.

The only words the gunman uttered were his vow to “kill everybody I see”. The first person he saw was Officer Ruíz, who just happened to be at the school with her partner, Officer Gregory Jaglowski, to talk to an unruly student. Wielding a .38 caliber revolver, Henderson fired one shot into Officer Ruiz’s chest. She was not wearing a bulletproof vest and died on the spot. Henderson and Officer Jaglowski traded several shots until Jaglowski –- bleeding profusely from a bullet wound in the leg - was able to get in a fatal shot against the killer.

A thousand people attended Officer Ruíz’s funeral at Christ the King Catholic Church. She was posthumously awarded the Police Medal and the Blue Star, and her name was etched into the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C. In 1990, when a new school opened a mile from the shooting site, it was named Irma C. Ruíz Elementary School.

According to “Officer Down”, five Illinois Latino law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty, all Chicago Police officers: Jose Torres (1979), Hector Silva (2001), Joe Marquez (2002), Benjamin Perez (2002) and Alejandro Valadez (2009).