James O’Connor IV had countless friends, but was closest to his wife, parents, two children, and extended family. He was relentlessly energetic, always unable to sit still. He was a proud Philadelphia SWAT officer whose father, son, and many cousins were also on the police force.
And he will forever be thought of as a hero after he was fatally shot in March while seeking to arrest a murder suspect in Frankford.
O’Connor, 46, was remembered as each of those things and more Friday morning by his family and colleagues during an abridged and unique Funeral Mass in Northeast Philadelphia.
The service at Our Lady of Calvary Church came eight weeks after O’Connor was shot while trying to serve an arrest warrant during an early-morning raid. It was delayed and greatly modified due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A limited number of people were allowed inside for the 10 a.m. memorial, while a large cavalcade of police officers and vehicles lined the street outside. Most in the church had to sit on opposite ends of the pews, and all had to wear masks. The proceedings were livestreamed.
O’Connor’s son, also named James, said the restricted service was “not the way we want to say goodbye to my father,” but he vowed: “When the time is right, we will give my dad a proper sendoff.”
Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw each acknowledged the unusual circumstances as they spoke to the limited audience, which included O’Connor’s children — his son and daughter Kelsey, who is in the Air Force — as well as his wife Terri, his mother, and his father, a retired city police officer. Archbishop Nelson Pérez also attended and spoke to the family, expressing gratitude for how many of them were public servants.
Kenney said: “The city has not, and the city will not, forget Cpl. James O’Connor. We won’t forget the sacrifices he made, or the sacrifices your family has made.”
Outlaw awarded O’Connor, a 23-year veteran, the department’s Medal of Honor, a Purple Heart, and the Medal of Valor, which is named after slain Sgt. Robert Wilson III. She hugged O’Connor’s wife, Terri, while presenting her the Medal of Honor, and said the other two commendations had been pinned to the uniform in which O’Connor was to be buried.
O’Connor was shot about 5:40 a.m. March 13 when he and other SWAT officers entered a rowhouse on the 1600 block of Bridge Street searching for Hassan Elliott, 21, who was wanted on an arrest warrant for a March 2019 homicide.
As O’Connor climbed the stairs to reach the second floor, authorities said, Elliott fired a rifle through a closed bedroom door. O’Connor was struck in an arm and shoulder and was taken to Temple University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Elliott was later charged with murder and related counts in the shooting of O’Connor, as were two men who authorities said were in the bedroom with Elliott at the time, Khalif Sears, 18, and Bilal Mitchell, 19.
Elliott was also charged with the March 2019 slaying of Tyrone Tyree in Frankford, the crime for which police initially had been seeking to arrest him.
O’Connor — the first person on the 6,500-member force to be killed in the line of duty in five years — was posthumously promoted to sergeant. And in March, in lieu of a funeral that had to be postponed due to the pandemic, hundreds of people gathered to watch as a large caravan of police, fire, and other official vehicles drove by O’Connor’s home in Northeast Philadelphia.
In advance of Friday’s ceremony, dozens of police vehicles lined Knights Road near the church and officers stood in the road with masks on. The Philadelphia Police and Fire Pipes and Drums ceremonial bagpipe and drum band played “Danny Boy” as O’Connor’s casket, draped in an American flag, was carried inside.
On an overcast morning, a few neighbors stood across from the church, and houses on Knights Road honored O’Connor with signs saying “Never Forget 8162″ and “Thank you 8162,” a reference to his police badge number.
After the funeral, the flag-wrapped coffin was returned to an armored black SWAT vehicle. A thunderous roar of police cars and motorcycles then began, as O’Connor’s body was driven to Resurrection Cemetery in Bensalem, with police on either side guiding the way.