Keith A. Thornton Jr. is the 911 dispatcher with the Chicago Police Department being praised for his handling of the August 7 police shooting that took the life of 29-year-old officer Ella French and wounded her partner.
On social media, Thornton was widely praised by people who followed the shooting aftermath on police dispatch audio. “His name is Keith Thornton. He’s the dispatcher on the CPD call. Get him trending. #KeithThornton,” wrote one person on Twitter. Another commenter wrote that Thornton “took control of the situation instructed CPD Officers to perform CPR he set the perimeters to help catch the murderers he called for outside help Keith A. Thornton Jr needs a award of valor.”
Dispatch audio from the scene chronicled how Thornton calmly coached the officers as they drove their wounded colleague to the hospital. “That’s the unconscious officer, correct? Is someone in the back with her? Is someone in the back seat with her? Ok, listen to me, take that … vest off right now and start compressions, start breathing, whatever you got to do, start it now, while you’re driving, the officer in the back with her, take the vest off and start compressions now. Keep it rolling baby … they know you’re coming in,” Thornton said in the dispatch audio.
On LinkedIn, Thornton describes himself as a “Chicago PD Dispatcher & Trainer | Firefighter | Emergency Medical Technician | Mentor.” On Facebook, his profile says, “God made me perfect: Black, Gay, Educated, Successful, Powerful, Loyal, Heroic. Any questions?”
Chicago Alderman Raymond Lopez also noted the dispatcher’s dedicated service, retweeting a post by the site Chicago Bars that said, “I don’t recall a @ChicagoOEMC dispatcher getting a City Council resolution before. Might be time. Thank you Keith.”
Thornton’s friend Ian Matthew Lopez posted on Facebook in tribute to the dispatcher. “You were fast thinking, quick on your feet, and took initiative without any direction in the very beginning stages and ran the emergency like an actual incident commander – far beyond the criteria of any dispatcher,” he wrote.
You can listen to more of the dispatch audio from the shooting later in this article. The Facebook page Northern Illinois FireGround Photos wrote, “Have listened to the audio of this call. This man did an exceptional job taking charge of the situation and getting these officers help as fast as possible while also setting up a perimeter to catch the POSs responsible. It was probably the worst moment of his career but he handled it like a professional.”
An emotional Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown, speaking in a news conference the day after the shooting, asked Chicago residents to “wrap their arms around our police officers and encourage them to continue their great work in protecting us all.” He added, “Officers need this city to pray for their strength, to pray for peace, that they are comforted and that their families are comforted.” French’s partner was also shot and is in critical condition; his name was not released. Three suspects are in custody.
Heavy reached out to Thornton via social media but has not received a response. Thornton did post on Facebook about the tragedy, calling French and her wounded partner “both heroes and never forget it.”
But, finally signing off.
Rest easy my fellow officer(s).
You were both heroes & never forget it.
Thanks for your service, we have it from here.
Dispatchers’ work can go unsung, but it’s critically important, people noted in his comment thread.
“I know it was God that gave you the strength to do this amazing job during a difficult time but you did it! Great job!” one person wrote.
“I heard your traffic, you rocked it out. I was in awe listening to you take control and initiative. You were definitely on top of it last night. I will pray for you for strength. Last night was not easy but so many people have you in their thoughts. From a 911 dispatcher,” wrote another.
Another person wrote, “I listened for hours. You were a beacon in the mayhem. Thank you, Keith. You are one of the finest Chicago has to offer. Absolute hero yourself. We grieve today. But we do so knowing you did absolutely everything you could to ensure these officers have justice.”
Thornton’s LinkedIn Page Describes the Chicago-Born Dispatcher, Who Was a Los Angeles Police Officer, as a ‘Natural Born Leader’
Thornton has served as a Chicago police dispatcher for three years and five months and has been a firefighter EMT and training instructor for the Cebu City Fire Department in the Philippines in a seasonal capacity since January 2020, according to his LinkedIn profile.
He also worked as an emergency medical technician in Lancaster, California, as a police officer for the Los Angeles Police Department for more than four years and as a community service specialist for the Illinois Senate. He was a volunteer for the Chicago Fire Department and a community service instructor and disciplinarian in Chicago Public Schools, his LinkedIn page says.
He has a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Concordia University Chicago and a certificate from Oakton Community College and from City Colleges of Chicago – Malcolm X College.
Thornton “is often described as a ‘natural-born leader’ who has an infectious smile and welcoming personality which allows him to motivate and lead others effectively and efficiently,” his LinkedIn page says.
“Born in the City of Chicago, Keith brings to the table many years of experience and expertise in Public Safety ranging from law enforcement, firefighting, emergency medical services and 911 communications. Furthermore, Keith has an astounding background and long list of accolades specific to the field of emergency management, leadership, public speaking, and communications,” the page says.
“Keith’s high involvement in his community doesn’t go unnoticed as he mentors not only adults, but also youth, while teaching life-skills courses at underprivileged high schools in the City of Chicago on his free time.”
An article in the Cebu Daily News quoted him on why he became a volunteer firefighter in the Philippines. “On my last day at Boracay, a very bad typhoon storm hit and the island lost most of its electricity. Furthermore, a volcano erupted near Manila. With everything going on, I noticed that tourists from various foreign countries started canceling their reservations and heading to the airports to fly back home almost instantly,” said Thornton in a Facebook post, according to the site.
“They didn’t want to stay. Instead, I prayed to God and asked where He needed me to be and what He wanted for me to do. He answered rather quickly. A fire engine’s siren came blaring from down the street as a fire crew flew past – the answer was clearer than ever. Work for the rest of my trip as a volunteer firefighter EMT.”
Thornton Became a Dispatcher to Fulfill a Childhood Dream
In a YouTube video, Thornton described how being a dispatcher fulfilled a childhood dream. He grew up “not in the best area” but he had parents to look up to.
In his lengthy Facebook post, Lopez described the attributes that Thornton brought to the complex, fast-moving tragedy.
Here is his post in full:
I’m not very big to giving people shout outs like this. But if there was any place on earth yesterday that my friend Keith could have been, it was working Chicago Police Department’s Zone 6. I cried as I listened to him but he held it down like a pro.
The way he talked to his officers, kept his air completely shut down and clear, set a perimeter within SECONDS, guided his officers to get their partners to NOT ONLY the hospital ASAP, but demanded and made sure they went to the closest trauma center and not medical hospital where they originally were headed, talked to them to get them to start CPR in the back of the squad car while enroute, telling CPD brass that he was going to get CFD’s light wagon to respond as CPD’s could not, called for the K-9 units, got Cook County Sheriff to even come in, other officers from other districts to come help, made sure that PH2 was up in the air calling things out, my list can go on and on… it was AMAZING!
You were fast thinking, quick on your feet, and took initiative without any direction in the very beginning stages and ran the emergency like an actual incident commander – far beyond the criteria of any dispatcher.
This city is proud of you. I’m so proud of you for all your hard work and for showing our city what it means to be an amazing 911 dispatcher and why it is so important for us for fight for you hero’s to be deemed as first responders. You did everything you could last night and even stayed late until you knew things were solid. You’re amazing at what you do and you deserve to be recognized for it with the upmost respect!
These suspects would NOT be in custody as quick as they were if you did not establish that perimeter in the heat of the fkin moment – that was beyond amazing. You’re a true hero in our books and I want you to know I and all of Chicago and abroad were listening to you ‘run wit it.’
The City of Chicago is blessed to have you as part of their team amongst all of the other fine dispatchers in this city. 💙💙💙💙
The world heard you loud and clear and we stand with you. 🖤💛💛🖤
I know that you are a little sad right now based on that voice last night but we all mourn the loss of a Chicago Police officer, Ella French right along with you. You did everything right. My heart goes out to their families and all of CPD. Let’s keep them in our prayers. Thank you for your service, thank all police officers for their service.
Ella French, the Slain Officer, Was Remembered as a Humanitarian
Ella French was identified as the 29-year-old Chicago police officer who was shot and killed in a traffic stop on August 7, 2021. She was remembered as a dedicated public servant and “humanitarian” who possessed “attributes that you don’t find in this world anymore.”
Those descriptors came from her brother to the Chicago Tribune.
The Fraternal Order of Police: Chicago Lodge No. 7 named French on Facebook, writing on August 8, “Late last night 2 of our own were shot. We lost a sister in blue. Officer Ella French was murdered while conducting a traffic stop with her partners. Our hearts go out to her family, friends and co-workers. The 2nd officer is still fighting for his life. Please keep him in your prayers and thoughts.” The family and Cook County Medical Examiner also released the officer’s name, according to The Tribune.
According to police Superintendent Brown, 38 Chicago police officers have been shot at or shot in 2021, with 11 of those being struck. Of those 11, one — French — died. He called those “extraordinary numbers,” saying that, in 2020, 79 officers were shot at or shot, a 500% increase over the previous year.
Andrew French, Ella French’s older brother, told the Chicago Tribune that French always thought of others first.
“My sister’s always been a person of integrity. She’s always done the right thing even when nobody’s looking. She’s always believed in people and believed in doing the right thing. She’s always believed in taking care of the small people. She’s always believed in taking care of people that can’t take care of themselves,” he told the newspaper, which said he is a veteran of the Iraq War.
French told the newspaper that his sister was motivated to get people help rather than “throwing people in jail” and supported therapy and social services. “She was a humanitarian. She believed in human rights. She was one of the officers on the force that thought they needed reform,” he said to the Tribune. “Because she’s seen the front line, just like I have. She’s always been a very caring person … When I was in Iraq, me and her, we talked. And she has some attributes that you don’t find in this world anymore.”
Andrew French also told the Tribune: “She was a very strong individual, she was always very bright and charismatic and she always cared, very much, way more than other people did. She would go out of her way to make sure people were good. Like, she was the epitome of a good Samaritan. And she was the best sister. It didn’t matter what I was going through or how hard things were hitting me, she was always there,” he said.
Brown confirmed that “one of our officers is deceased and one is in critical condition.” The name of the officer in critical condition has not yet been released.
On Saturday, August 7, 2021, at 9 p.m., officers assigned to a community safety team “conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle with three occupants. There were also three officers in the same car that stopped these three occupants,” said Brown. “Officers were fired upon and they returned fire. One of our officers was struck by one of the offenders’ bullets and sustained a fatal gunshot wound.”
He said the suspected gunman was also shot and a weapon was recovered. One of the three suspects is a female who was arrested the day after the shooting, although police did not reveal how she initially got away. The other two suspects are males who were taken into custody the day of the shooting. The suspected shooter is a male passenger, according to Brown.
The accused gunman, Emonte Morgan, 21, and his brother, Eric Morgan, have been charged, and a third man is accused federally of purchasing the gun as a straw buyer, Brown said. Learn more about the suspects here.
According to Brown, French had three and a half years on the Chicago police force. She started on the job in April of 2018, he said. Her partner who was shot has six years on the force.
“Despite the shock, grief, pain and sorrow we feel this morning, our brothers and sisters in blue put this uniform on each and every day. They go to work risking everything to serve the people of Chicago,” Brown said.
“They come to work, willing to run toward danger, toward gunfire and they’re willing to sacrifice their lives to save the lives of perfect strangers. They went to work today. After last night’s tragic events, officers are working now. Right now, continuing this brave, courageous work of protecting the people of Chicago. It’s in the honor of our lost officers that we work, that we sacrifice, that we serve, that we risk everything.”
He added, “A new shift of officers grieving and heartbroken will do the same thing tonight and tomorrow night and each and every night they serve. They go down dark alleys no one would go down. They confront violent offenders no one would confront… we are all made safe, and we sleep well at night because of these brave men and women.”
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