Slain Chicago police Officer Luis Huesca remembered as ‘Lionheart’ by family as his funeral is held

The typically busy stretch of South Western Avenue outside St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel was quiet Monday morning.

Instead of tractor-trailers hauling freight, the thoroughfare was lined with scores of police vehicles from cities and towns across northern Illinois.

Hundreds of Chicago cops and their counterparts from nearby municipalities gathered at St. Rita for the funeral mass of Luis Huesca, the 30-year-old Chicago Police Department officer who was fatally shot earlier this month as he returned to his home in Gage Park.

Bagpipers played hymns and television news helicopters circled overhead as those in attendance stood on St. Rita’s north lawn and silently saluted while the hearse carrying Huesca’s remains arrived at the church.

The chapel at St. Rita — a regular setting for first responder funerals — soon filled to capacity after Huesca’s casket, draped with a Chicago flag, was carried inside.

Emiliano Huesca Jr., Luis Huesca’s older brother, remembered the slain officer as wise beyond his years, a well-rounded world traveler who took pride in caring for his mother and who “always put others first.”

“Luis, your nickname should be ‘Lionheart,” Emiliano Huesca Jr. told mourners in attendance, reading from a letter he wrote to his brother. “You were an exceptional person with courage, bravery, humility and pride in your work. And you had dedication for those you touched. Rest in peace, my brother, and I love you.”

The 30-year-old Luis Huesca was shot and killed April 21 near his home in the Gage Park neighborhood on the Southwest Side, just two days before his 31st birthday. Huesca had just finished his patrol shift in the CPD’s Calumet District (5th) before he was shot. His car was also stolen.

“This is a day to celebrate the great contributions that this officer has provided this city. The protection of others is what he wanted every single day,” CPD Superintendent Larry Snelling told mourners. “Let’s remember the greatness of this young man, let’s remember the kindness of this young man, and let’s take something from that. Let’s take something from this family. Let’s continue to do the work that we do, and let’s continue to remember Officer Huesca.

Those who worked closely with Huesca recalled his sense of humor and his ability to make others feel welcome.

Huesca’s sergeant, Curtisine Gilmore, said Huesca could be counted on to show up to work ready to serve and protect, but also ready to listen. Gilmore recalled a time when Huesca asked her for advice in his dating life.

“He said, ‘I don’t know why I’m telling you this,’ and I’m thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know why he’s telling me this, either,’” Gilmore said. “Maybe it’s because I’m around the same age as his mom, or he just needed a female perspective.”

“Either way, I obliged and continued to listen, and there were some things he could have left out of that story that I didn’t need to know,” Gilmore continued, eliciting a brief moment of levity. “But when he was done, I did give him my opinion, and we laughed about it. I share this experience with you all because it meant a lot to me, that he valued my opinion and my input in what was going on in his life. I will forever cherish his memory and will always remember the impact he had on me, his team, this department and the city of Chicago.”

The investigation into Huesca’s killing remains active. On Friday, a Cook County judge signed an arrest warrant for a man wanted in connection with the shooting, though he was not in custody as of Monday.

Snelling announced last week that the department determined Huesca died in the line of duty.

The designation was announced last Tuesday, on what would have been Huesca’s 31st birthday, and it entitles his family to survivor’s death benefits. In a message to all CPD members last week, Snelling said he’s recently spent time with those closest to Huesca.

Huesca is the third Chicago police officer to be shot — and the first fatally — this year. On Jan. 8, a veteran police officer was shot in the leg during an exchange of gunfire with a burglary suspect in the Gold Coast neighborhood. On March 21, an officer was shot by Dexter Reed, who was killed by police gunfire during the traffic stop in Humboldt Park.

Last year, CPD Officer Andrés Vásquez Lasso — a friend of Huesca’s — was fatally shot in the line of duty about a half mile north of where Huesca was fatally wounded.

In a remembrance video for Vásquez Lasso, Huesca described him as “one of those guys that actually deserved this star.”

Huesca’s wake was held Sunday. During the service, the slain officer’s family told Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza — whose brother is a CPD officer — that they did not want Mayor Brandon Johnson to attend Monday’s funeral service.

Mendoza said she relayed that message to Johnson’s office Sunday night before the release of Johnson’s Monday schedule. Johnson’s press office said late Sunday that the mayor would attend the funeral, but reversed course Monday morning. Johnson’s current and former chiefs of staff could be seen in attendance, though.

“We continue to send our deepest condolences to the family and colleagues of Officer Luis Huesca as they heal from the loss of their beloved son, nephew, brother and friend,” Johnson said in an emailed statement Monday. “As mayor, I vow to continue supporting our police and first responders, uniting our city and remaining committed to working with everyone towards building a better, stronger, safer Chicago. My heart is with the Huesca family today. God bless them and God bless the City of Chicago.”

Huesca’s mother, Edith Huesca, spoke Saturday in a video conversation with Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police.

“April 23 was his birthday, and it was so hard for me,” she said. “For me as a mother, I’m asking for justice. It won’t give us a lot, but it’ll just give us a little relief in our pain.”