JOLIET – In 2004, Gregory and Jonathan Walsh were not able to make their Father’s Day visit to the ballpark until August.
During the game at Silver Cross Field, Jonathan said, “ ‘Pops, if I ever get killed in the line of duty, know that I died doing what I desperately wanted to do,’ ” Gregory Walsh recalled Wednesday.
A week later, on Aug. 20, 2004, Joliet Police Officer Jonathan Walsh, 27, died in a car crash while responding to a burglar alarm. His parents and more than 50 fellow officers gathered Wednesday to mark the 10-year anniversary of the most recent law enforcement death in Will County.
Chief Brian Benton called Walsh’s death one of the most painful experiences his colleagues have gone through.
“For some of us, the pain is still too fresh,” Benton said. “But that pain, that heartache helps to serve as motivation. John’s death was not in vain. His sacrifice helps to remind us of the daily risks we face as police officers.”
Jonathan’s father served 34 years with the Worth Police Department. Norma Walsh said her son had wanted to be a police officer since he was 2, and dressed up as a cop every Halloween.
Jonathan Walsh started as a Chicago Ridge police cadet before serving with the Palos Heights and Burr Ridge departments. He joined the Joliet Police Department in February 2001. Walsh became a patrol officer who also worked in the bicycle patrol and gang suppression units.
About 7 p.m. Aug. 20, 2004, Walsh was headed to an alarm at Pilcher Park Nature Center when a Chevrolet Blazer came out of a driveway off Route 6 just east of Briggs Street. Walsh’s squad car clipped the back of the SUV and smashed into a construction crane parked on the side of the road. He was wearing his seat belt, but did not have his lights or sirens activated.
Norma Walsh had been walking with a friend in Orland Park that evening when she checked her cellphone to see several missed calls from the department.
“I told them I was about to get on the expressway and they said they’d come and get me. [Hearing that] deep down I knew, but I wouldn’t let my mind go there. I kept thinking it wasn’t true,” she remembered.
Norma Walsh said she has felt a tremendous pride over the past 10 years to learn about some of the things her son had done in his career and never talked about. She finds comfort with her faith in God that the family will be reunited in heaven.
A cross was set up Wednesday near the scene of Walsh’s death with his name and the words “In the line of duty.” The memorial cross is set in black gravel with a strip of blue across it.
The ceremony included the Joliet Police Honor Guard standing vigil, a prayer from department chaplain Fr. Chris Groh, “Amazing Grace” played by the department’s Pipes and Drums Corps and “Taps” by bugler Eric Zettergren. Benton and Walsh’s father also spoke.
“I am proud to say that I worked with Officer Jonathan Walsh on the Joliet Police Department. John, you will forever be remembered as a hero on our department,” Benton said.
Gregory Walsh said the family was “humbled” to see the support his colleagues have given them over the past decade and their son “truly wanted” to serve the city of Joliet. Gregory Walsh recalled what his son would say when the retired officer went with him on occasional ridealongs.
“We’d go to a high point ... where you could see the lights. Jonathan would tell me, ‘That’s my city,’ with great pride and conviction,” Gregory Walsh said.