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West Bloomfield

September 12, 2012

WB unites to honor slain officer

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

The bloodshed is over. The healing begins.

An estimated 1,000-1,500 people crowded the West Bloomfield Police Department parking lot Sept. 11 for an evening candlelight vigil to reflect on the life and tragic death of West Bloomfield police officer Patrick O’Rourke.

O’Rourke, 39, of Fenton, was fatally shot the night of Sept. 9 while responding to a report of gunfire in the 4000 block of Forest Edge Drive. He is survived by his wife, Amy, and their four children: Eileen, 10; Mary, 8; Andrea, 4; and Stephen, 10 months.

During the vigil, uniformed officers huddled in groups. Some local residents and visitors held tissues and cried. Others solemnly held lit candles.

West Bloomfield resident Jeremy Kaplan called O’Rourke’s death a tragedy, but he was pleased to see the community’s response. “I was absolutely astonished by the turnout,” he said.

Members of the West Bloomfield Clergy Association presided over the vigil. Speakers of various denominations and faiths expressed the collective grief of the audience while also offering words of hope.

The Rev. Timothy Holzerland, West Bloomfield’s fire chaplain, spoke of the concept of “greater love” found in the New Testament book of John, where Jesus says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Holzerland described O’Rourke as a man of faith who regularly took his family to Mass on weekends. The chaplain also expressed his gratitude to the Police Department for working in a “world filled with desperate acts.”

“You may wonder, ‘Why us? Why now?’” he said. “The strength you displayed in the last two days was a living testament to your work. … This is greater loved displayed.”

A shooting, then a standoff
The shooting of O’Rourke and the resulting police standoff lasted from approximately 10 p.m. Sept. 9 to around 6:30 p.m. Sept. 10, according to police. Gunfire was first reported at a home in the 4000 block of Forest Edge Drive at around 10 p.m. Sept. 9, police said.

Family members reportedly fled from the home, and officers quickly responded, according to Lt. Tim Diamond. Diamond said officers who entered the home did not know at the time whether the gunshot was self-inflicted, but they reportedly announced that they were police and heard no response.

Upon entering the second floor, police said, gunfire blasted through a closed bedroom door and wall. O’Rourke was reportedly shot, and paramedics took him to Pontiac’s McLaren Oakland Hospital, where the officer was later pronounced dead.

Police said the suspect, later identified as Ricky Coley, reportedly barricaded the home and embarked on a standoff that continued through the following morning and afternoon.

‘A tragic loss’
At 2 p.m. inside her West Bloomfield Town Hall office Sept. 10, Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste said the shooting was the first police fatality in West Bloomfield’s history.

“A lot of employees even here in Town Hall did know him personally, so it’s been a tragic loss for the township,” she said.

Ureste said she had been in constant contact with police and fire officials, as well as residents who live near the shooting scene. She called the situation “the longest standoff we’ve had in West Bloomfield.”

“It’s been a very frustrating right up till this moment — 14 hours later — that we’re basically still at the same juncture, where he’s barricaded in and shooting out,” Ureste said. “And the residents who were evacuated are frustrated that the situation hasn’t changed.”

Ureste described an elaborate array of measures that law enforcement tried to end the standoff. She said the FBI had been called in, and police tried to forcibly enter the premises with a Hummer, though she added that the tactic was apparently thwarted by the barricaded property.

The standoff ends
The standoff ended later that afternoon when police learned that Coley had died.

At one point, Michigan State Police deployed a robot inside the home to remotely give them a look at what was going on. They said the robot revealed that the suspect was on a bed and not moving. The Oakland County Sheriff Office’s Special Response Team then reportedly saw the suspect’s body firsthand and confirmed his death.

According to a representative from the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s Office, an autopsy revealed that the suspect’s death was a suicide caused by a gunshot wound to the mouth.

West Bloomfield Police Chief Michael Patton credited multiple agencies for assisting West Bloomfield, including officials in Town Hall, and even building and zoning officials for providing plans and diagrams.

Patton said his department tried numerous times to communicate with Coley, but was unsuccessful. The resulting investigation is being overseen by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, he said.

Since the standoff, police have learned more about the suspect, a 50-year-old West Bloomfield resident.

Patton listed a few reported areas of personal turmoil in Coley’s life, such as a divorce, child custody issues, financial issues and problematic business ventures. He confirmed earlier reports that Coley was ex-military by specifying that the suspect was formerly in the U.S. Army. Coley also reportedly possessed multiple firearms inside the home, though Patton said he couldn’t provide specifics.

The chief said the department’s staff is in a terrible state of shock and grief, but everyone is supportive of O’Rourke’s family and one another.

“We’re helping them work with this,” he said. “Obviously, we have to allow our officers time to grieve, and we’re offering counseling for any officer that needs it.”

The West Bloomfield Police Department hired O’Rourke as a cadet in 1997, and he officially became an officer in 2000. He won a Lifesaving Award, three Unit Commendations and three Certificates of Merit while on the force.

Other officials react
Other community leaders spoke out about O’Rourke’s death.

Township Clerk Cathy Shaughnessy called the killing a “senseless tragedy” and added that she was heartbroken for the officer’s family and the Police Department. Although she didn’t know O’Rourke personally, she said she has met him, and she remembers him as respectful, polite and happy. 

“He just exuded that integrity that you would expect from a police officer,” she said. “He was really a fine, fine individual.”

West Bloomfield Trustee Larry Brown said it’s a sad day for the township. “That’s what public safety is,” he said. “They put their lives on the line to protect this community. … Every time they get a call, they don’t know what they’re up against.”

Keego Harbor Mayor Pro Tem Sid Rubin said he met O’Rourke. Rubin expects his city’s Police Department to honor the fallen officer.

“We feel that he’s a member of the Keego Harbor family as well as West Bloomfield because our officers back each other up,” Rubin said. “We consider every officer in our surrounding area as a part of our family. Their loss is our loss, and we feel their pain.”

In response to O’Rourke’s death, Gov. Rick Snyder sent an order to lower American flags to half-mast at state buildings Sept. 14. The social workers of the West Bloomfield School District reportedly planned to conduct a donation drive in school offices until Sept. 14 to assist O’Rourke’s family.

The “Mojo in the Morning” radio program on Channel 95.5 was scheduled to promote a Fill the Boot fundraiser for O’Rourke’s family Sept. 13, according to Ureste.

Funeral and donation info

The township has announced an Officer Patrick O’Rourke Family Trust fund to collect donations for O’Rourke’s family. According to township officials, Bank of America locations and West Bloomfield Township facilities will accept funds.

To learn more about being a donor, visit www.westbloomfieldhero.com.

To learn more about the memorial trust fund, call the township at (248) 451-4800. The West Bloomfield Police Department can be reached at (248) 975-9200.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1058.