Inside a mostly empty church in Northeast Philadelphia, Sgt. James O’Connor IV was finally laid to rest.
O’Connor, 46, was fatally shot in the line of duty eight weeks ago, but his funeral Mass was delayed — and fundamentally altered — due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Services for fallen police officers typically draw thousands. Social distancing protocols made that impossible on Friday. Only the O’Connor family and a select group of officers sat in the pews of Our Lady Of Calvary Church.
“This is not the way we wanted to say goodbye to my father. It’s just not fair,” said Officer James O’Connor V, who serves in the 6th Police District.
During a roughly hour-long service, O’Connor was remembered as a loving, eccentric husband and father, endlessly devoted to the Philadelphia Police Department and the residents of the city he was sworn to protect during his 23 years with the force.
After removing her black face mask, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw highlighted O’Connor’s bravery before posthumously awarding him with the city’s highest police commendations: the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart and the Sgt. Robert Wilson III Medal of Valor.
“His heroism and sacrifice on behalf of us all can never fully be repaid and will certainly never be forgotten by the Philadelphia Police Department,” said Outlaw, who hugged O’Connor’s wife of 25 years after handing her O’Connor’s Medal of Honor.
O’Connor was killed March 13 while his SWAT team was trying to arrest a murder suspect in the Frankford section of the city.
Prosecutors say Hassan Elliott, wanted for a murder from March 2019, shot O’Connor in the arm and shoulder with an assault rifle through the door of a second-floor bedroom. A total of 21 bullets were fired at O’Connor and other officers inside the rowhome.
O’Connor was pronounced dead at Temple University Hospital at 6:09 a.m. that day.
Elliott, 21, was charged with murder, criminal homicide of a law enforcement officer, attempted criminal homicide of a law enforcement officer and other offenses.
Two men who were allegedly in the bedroom with Elliott the day of the shooting — Khalif Sears, 18, and Bilal Mitchell, 19, — have also been charged with murder and related offenses.
O’Connor was posthumously promoted from corporal to sergeant after the fatal shooting.
A week after he died, the police department organized a vehicle procession through O’Connor’s neighborhood to honor his service and let people celebrate his life without gathering in large numbers.