Firefighter and former police officer from Little Village reflects on life and death of Adam Toledo

Medical Watch

WGN’s Medical Watch team first met Jesse Rangel in 2017 as part of the series on violence in the city. Rangel grew up in Little Village, where on March 29, 13-year-old Adam Toledo was fatally shot by a Chicago police officer. There are no simple explanations, but there is human perspective. Once caught in the crossfire himself, Rangel went on to serve as a police officer and ultimately a Chicago firefighter.

He shared his thoughts with us from both sides of a tragedy.

“My experience growing up was a wonderful experience, despite the fact that there was all this violence” he said. “There was violence in front of my house, where people were shot. There was violence where people were killed right in front of my house.”

In 2017, he showed WGN around his old neighborhood and during interview, the scene grew tense so the interview was cut short and the team and Rangel moved to a safer spot.

For Rangel, the encounter brought him right back to his childhood.

“Growing up I thought I had two options as an adult. I was either going to end up at 26th and Cal in Cook County jail because that’s where a lot of people I knew ended up,” he said. “Or number two, I was going to end up dead somewhere. … I came close to it because I ended up getting shot. I was an innocent bystander in a drive by shooting. Everything I thought about as a kid was coming true.”

When he finally watched the body cam video from the night of March 29 he said he thought of his mother.

“I was thinking about the mother of this young man because I think about my mom when she was alive,” he said. “And she answered the door and found the police officers at our front door. And they told my parents that I had been shot. I think about how that mother reacted when she heard the same words. … But yet I also look at the kid that’s running, I see myself in him. I see myself in the police officer.”

For the last 30-plus years, Rangel has served the community from the firehouse and on the streets.

“There are many times as a police officer I was running down an alley, running down a street in the middle of night and thinking about, ‘Am I going to die? Am I going see my family?’” he said. “The police officer involved in the shooting has to live with the fact that he took a life. And that is a heavy burden to deal with for the rest of your life. Just like those parents have a heavy burden knowing their son will never be home ever again. And it gets me emotional and it’s a terrible thing.”

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