Kadner: A message of ‘thanks’ to Burbank police
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org February 6, 2013 11:06PM
John Johnson walks up to his house with Burbank Police Officer Sean Moran (right), Justin Chisholm (second from right) and Detective William Casey (background) in Burbank, Illinois, Wednesday, February 6, 2013. Detective Casey and officer Moran recently helped track down Johnson after he went missing. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 7:35AM
Edna Johnson expected her husband of 61 years to pick her up at the end of her volunteer shift at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn on Jan. 30, but his car wasn’t there.
“John is 85 years old, has mild dementia and has always been most faithful in driving me to and picking me up from my volunteer shift each Wednesday,” Mrs. Johnson wrote the SouthtownStar.
When he wasn’t there that day, Mrs. Johnson told me, she called her home in Burbank and her husband’s cellphone and couldn’t get an answer. She started walking the route he would follow to the hospital, and at a McDonald’s near 91st Street and Cicero Avenue called 911.
Because the Johnsons live in Burbank, the Burbank police were dispatched and officers picked her up and drove her home.
Once she was home, officers checked the garage, the house and asked “countless questions” trying to find out some information that might give them a clue as to where Mr. Johnson had gone.
Mrs. Johnson’s daughter, Maryanne McGee, drove to Burbank from her home in Mokena and spent the night sitting up with her mother as they anxiously awaited a phone call and tried to check her husband’s credit card purchases on the Internet.
Burbank police continued to check in, “and their concern was apparent,” Mrs. Johnson said.
Police Capt. Joseph Ford, chief of the city’s patrol division, said Cook County sheriff’s police sent up their helicopter to search the area for Mr. Johnson’s car.
“We had his license plate number, which helped because we were able to put that into a system where cameras search for that plate,” Ford said.
Burbank police also contacted Verizon, which tracked pings from cellphone towers from Mr. Johnson’s phone.
“We sent squad cars to the area where the pings were bouncing off the towers, but that gives you about a five-block area and his car seemed to be moving and circling counter-clockwise,” Ford said.
For a time the cellphone shut off, “which certainly increased our concern,” he said.
Police also tried to track Mr. Johnson’s credit card use, “but the problem with that is it can take 24 hours for a gas station to report the use of a credit card,” Ford said.
In the meantime, another daughter of the Johnsons, Gale Perez, flew in from Raleigh, N.C. The daughters made posters with their father’s photograph and description and posted them around town.
They also drove around Burbank, trying to find their father’s car.
“A Verizon employee spent about 3 1/2 hours with us on the phone tracing the pings off the cell tower, and we really appreciated that level of cooperation,” Ford said.
“We were frantic,” Mrs. Johnson said. “We knew the weather was going to turn colder on Thursday night.”
Police were concerned as well. Several years earlier, Ford said, another elderly Burbank resident had wandered off and was found too late.
“We had guys out on snowmobiles and ATVs for that one because the woman had just walked off and it’s much harder to track someone on foot,” Ford said. “Some of our older guys remembered that incident, and they didn’t want another tragic ending.”
Well, this story has a happy ending.
Burbank officers, miles away from their normal beat, spotted Johnson’s car at a Dunkin’ Donuts at Foster and Nagle avenues on Chicago’s North Side after tracking his cellphone.
Detective Bill Casey, who was heading the search effort, called Mrs. Johnson and her daughters and told them that, after missing for 38 hours, Mr. Johnson would soon be home.
“We were simply overwhelmed by the fact that you had your men up that far north and actually drove him and his car back to us rather than having us go down and pick him up, which we would have done gladly,” Mrs. Johnson wrote in a letter to Bruce Radowicz, the Burbank police chief.
“I’m afraid I don’t have words enough to express our gratitude at your kindness and the devotion to duty of your men — Detective Casey actually stopped by later that night to see how John was doing,” she wrote.
Her husband was dehydrated, starving and dirty as well as bruised and bloody from where a car door blew into his eye, Mrs. Johnson said, but he was safe at home.
“He still can’t remember what he was doing driving around like a lunatic (his words),” she said.
She believes he took a wrong turn heading toward Christ Medical Center, became confused and just kept driving.
I asked Ford why Burbank police pursued a missing senior citizen with such diligence.
“We always tell our officers that could be your father, your brother, your sister, your mother, and it’s our job to help people just as if they were our family,” Ford said. “You try to treat people with compassion and understanding. And anyone who has an elderly relative can understand the anxiety the Johnson family was experiencing.”
Mrs. Johnson said her husband won’t be driving anymore.
“What I want people to understand is that the Burbank Police Department went above and beyond the call of duty to help our family out,” she said. “From picking me up at the McDonald’s and driving me home to bringing my husband and his car back to their concern for his safety.”
Stories about police officers making mistakes or failing to put in the extra effort to help always make the news.
More often than not, however, they respond to cries of help from families in crisis and do so without notice or attention.
Recognition for that doesn’t occur often enough. I thank Mrs. Johnson for her letter.