Authorities say they didn't have to go far to make three arrests in the fatal shooting of a Gary police officer: Police found them all in a home less than a block away.
Sheriff John Buncich described one of the men as a "person of interest" in the slaying of Officer Jeffrey Westerfield, who was killed as he sat in his patrol car Sunday morning.
Buncich said the other two were arrested along with the suspect about 3 p.m. at a home in the 2600 block of Jackson Street, around the corner from where Westerfield was killed.
“All three are being questioned,” Buncich said Sunday evening. No charges have been announced.
He said the department, which led the investigation, received a “series of tips” that led them to the residence. “It was some good police work. Very intense police work that paid off,” he said.
Westerfield, 47, was found slumped in his car by a motorist around 5:45 a.m. at the intersection of 26th and Van Buren streets, Police Chief Wade Ingram said at a morning news conference.
Westerfield was pronounced dead at 6:36 a.m., according to the Lake County coroner's office.
Westerfield was in the driver's seat of his patrol car, but Ingram could not say if his service weapon was found on him. Shell casings were recovered from the scene, he said.
"A citizen called police and said they saw an officer parked at that location," Ingram said. "The citizen got out of his car and noticed the officer was unresponsive and called 911."
The officer had answered a call to the area earlier in the day and police were investigating whether it was related to his death, Ingram said.
"We don't think it was a traffic stop," the chief said. "It may have stemmed from something earlier. . .We do have several leads."
Westerfield had been on the force for 19 years and had four "beautiful daughters," Ingram said. His birthday was Sunday.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the officer's death "is devastating to the department, it's devastating to the community."
Kimberly Robinson, who trained with Westerfield, said he was a "happy family man, a nice guy."
Westerfield had been married to a Gary police sergeant and had recently gotten engaged, Ingram said. "Officer Westerfield made the ultimate sacrifice this morning."
Westerfield’s fiancee, Denise Cather, told WGN-TV she is trying to keep her children calm after telling them the bad news. She is angry, she said, and wants answers about the death of the man she called her “best friend.’’
“I want the man or the kids or whoever it is. . .I want them caught,’’ she said. “I want them to look at me in the eye and tell me why they killed my fiance."
Cather said she wanted everyone to know what a wonderful person Westerfield was.
“My oldest daughter, he took her as his own too,’’ she said. “He took my grandchildren as his own. He was a fantastic man,’’ Cather said. “He was wonderful, he had a heart of gold. He’d help anybody -- all they had to do was call.’’
Cather and Westerfield had been engaged for two years and had known each other for about 20 years. They were going to be married Aug. 24. “We were in the middle of moving, we just bought a house,’’ she said.
The two were going to go to dinner for his birthday and ride their bikes to the lake, something they liked to do as much as they could. “We’d go out there, have ice cream and look at the water.’’
Cather got the news shortly after waking up Sunday morning. "Wake up, look out your window and see six squad cars outside your house? You pretty much know what happened,’’ Cather said. “That’s a way to wake up, right?"
“This is senseless...I just lost my best friend.’’
Westerfield's next door neighbors, Debbie Derolf and Perry Parker, said the officer was a "nice family man" who often played softball with his daughters in the yard.
"(The daughters) always had so many friends over," said Derolf, 53.
Derolf said the officer's family had people over for the Fourth of July and put on a fireworks display outside the house.
"It was nice. We watched from here," Derolf said, sitting in her living room.
Parker, 53, recalled one time during this past winter when Westerfield got his squad car stuck in the driveway. "I was laughing at him," Parker said. "He was laughing, too."
Parker said he told the cop he'd help dig him out, telling him, "I don't want my tax dollars to have to buy you a new transmission."
Westerfield got a kick out of that, Parker said.
"He worked nights and I worked days," Parker said. "I plowed his driveway in the winter. We all help each other out."
"It's heartbreaking to feel what that family is going through," Derolf said. "I just can't believe it."
Tribune reporter Rosemary Regina Sobol contributed.