‘I let him down’: Year after Mercy Hospital shooting, partner of slain officer speaks out

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CHICAGO — One year ago this week, three innocent people were killed in a shooting at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital.

Police said Juan Lopez confronted doctor Tamara O’Neal in the hospital parking lot. The couple was reportedly engaged until O’Neal called it off. Police said Lopez shot O’Neal. Gunfire continued as Lopez ran into the hospital killing First-year pharmacy resident Dayna Less.

Lopez exchanged gunfire with Chicago police. Officer Sam Jimenez was killed.

His partner, Officer Armando Zambrano spoke to WGN’s Mike Lowe this week on the anniversary. Zambrano said he wanted to fulfill a promise and remind the city of his partner's bravery and sacrifice.

In his first interview since the shooting, Zambrano recounted the chaotic moments when he and Jimenez arrived at the hospital, a day that life changed forever.

"It’s hard to believe it’s been a year. It's like I blinked and time just flew,” he said. “And it’s hard because he’s not in the passenger seat anymore.”

Zambrano and Jimenez were like brothers. They had known each other since the police academy and had been partners for more than half a year. That day in the squad car, he remembers making a comment, “We may not be around next year.”

A few minutes later they were in the lobby of the 1st District

“We heard off of the radios, ‘Active shooter, Mercy Hospital,’” he said. “We looked at each other ... and just said ‘We’re going.'”

They were the first officers to arrive. They saw O'Neal lifeless on the pavement.

“That`s when we saw the doctor laying on the ground,” Zambrano said. “We heard more shots going off. We were the only squad car there. … Our game plan was just go in there and see how we could help.”

But the shooting started again and Zambrano pulled his car in front of O’Neal to provide cover.

The SWAT team had just arrived.

“My last image of Sam is him running to engage the active shooter with the SWAT team,” Zambrano said.

He heard more bursts of gunfire then deafening silence.

“I tried to mobile with my partner, and Sam wasn`t communicating back,” Zambrano said. “That’s when our dispatchers kept on trying to mobile with him. No response. I already knew that something had happened."

Fearing the worst, Zambrabno went inside to look for his partner.

“That’s supposed to be a safe haven,” he said. “I go into the hospital and see a pool of blood like being dragged, and it goes into the emergency room. And then I saw his vest on the floor. And I got there just in time to see them throw his body on top of the bed.”

Jimenez had been shot and needed to be transferred to the trauma unit at the University of Chicago Medical Center. When Zambrano arrived there , he was taken immediately to a separate room to wait.

“I kept on telling my sergeant, ‘Just tell me already. Just let me know. I have a right to know,’” he said. “I let him down.  Sam saved lives, but the life I was supposed to save, I couldn't. For me Sam was like my little brother, I always looked after him.”

Zambrano wanted to share his memories because he says it’s critical that the city doesn’t forget the sacrifice.

“You don’t see the majority of us are still out here to make sure you still go home safe and that’s what Sam did that day,” he said. “I’m thankful my family has me .. For this year. But who knows for how many more years? Because we’re living on borrowed time. Unfortunately, that’s the way I feel. But we can still do good for the city.”

Zambrano said the way he can do good for the city is to put that uniform on every single day and report for duty.

 

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