Suspect in killing of Temple Univ. cop went through slain officer's pockets, D.A. says
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - A man is facing murder and other charges in the death of a Temple University police officer shot and killed near campus Saturday night, authorities said.
The victim was a former Lehigh County corrections officer and the son of former Allentown Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald.
- The officer was identified as Christopher David Fitzgerald, 31
- He is the son of former Allentown Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald
- Christopher Fitzgerald joined the university police force in October 2021.
The Philadelphia district attorney's office said 18-year-old Miles Pfeffer will face charges of murder, murder of a law enforcement officer, robbery, carjacking and weapons crimes in the death of Officer Christopher Fitzgerald, who prosecutors said was shot in the head while responding to an incident near campus around 7 p.m.
“Pfeffer is also alleged to have attempted to rob Officer Fitzgerald of his gun and to have gone through his pockets, while the officer was laying on the ground and fatally wounded,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement Sunday. “Pfeffer is further alleged to have committed a carjacking a short time after, close to the location of the officer’s murder.”
The Bucks County District Attorney's office said Pfeffer was taken into custody shortly after 7 a.m. Sunday at his Buckingham Township home by township and Philadelphia police as well as state police and federal marshals.
“Police used the fallen officer’s handcuffs in placing the suspect under arrest,” county prosecutors said.
Temple University officials said Fitzgerald, 31, had been on the university police force since October 2021. An email sent to students Sunday said he had a wife and four children. His father was Allentown's first non-white police chief and served from December 2013 to September 2015.
Daryl Hendricks, president of Allentown City Council and a retired city police captain, said he was stunned by the news.
“It’s devastating to me that this involves somebody I had the pleasure of working with,” said Hendricks, an Allentown police officer for 38 years. “Being a member of that (police) family, it’s very difficult. Every day they go out and put their lives on the line. They are truly the heroes. They’re a thin blue line between us and anarchy and too often we don’t appreciate it."
Joel Fitzgerald was named Allentown’s chief late in 2013 by then-Mayor Ed Pawlowski. He left Allentown less than two years later to lead the Fort Worth Police Department in Texas.
On behalf of Chris' family, the Temple University Police Association will be gathering donations for our fallen hero, who was shot and killed in the line of duty yesterday evening.— Temple University Police Association (@officialTUPA) February 19, 2023
DONATIONS AT THE LINK BELOWhttps://t.co/vlwvaAVXZn
On Facebook, the Allentown Police Department posted a news story about the tragedy.
“Our condolences to Temple University Police and the Fallen Officer’s Family and friends. You are in our thoughts and prayers," wrote Chief Charles Roca.
During Joel Fitzgerald's tenure in Allentown, a case involving his son made headlines in Lehigh County. County detectives in 2014 accused Christopher Fitzgerald of pointing a loaded gun at them during a road-rage incident on MacArthur Road in Whitehall Township.
A Lehigh County jury in June 2015 found Christopher Fitzgerald not guilty following a trial on charges of simple assault and reckless endangerment. At the time of his arrest, Christopher Fitzgerald was a corrections officer in Lehigh County.
He later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Lehigh County District Attorney's Office that was ultimately dismissed.
Saturday night's fatal shooting was the first of an on-duty police officer in Philadelphia since 2020 and the first time a Temple University officer was slain on duty.
Allentown’s Hendricks said the shooting is an example of deteriorating respect for law enforcement – an issue that he said is affecting police recruiting in Allentown and elsewhere. Last week, Allentown police shot and killed a man who reportedly pulled a gun and fired at officers during a chase.
“We’ve gone through a terrible period where we came through ‘defund the police’ and now we’re realizing that’s not the answer,” Hendricks said. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of police do a great job and put their lives on the line. And this only goes to show how difficult a job it can become. You never know what you’re facing.”
Authorities on Saturday night initially believed Fitzgerald was shot when he intervened in a carjacking, but they said Sunday that was not the case. A university statement said he was shot while trying to apprehend a robbery suspect at 17th Street and Montgomery Avenue. The suspect then allegedly was involved in a carjacking after the fatal shooting.
Ken Kaiser, Temple University's senior vice president and chief operating officer, was quoted by the Philadelphia Inquirer as saying it was the first shooting death of a campus officer during his more than 30 years at Temple.
“It just shakes everybody to the core,” he said.
Lori and I are devastated for the family of the Temple University police officer who was killed in the line of duty tonight, bravely serving his community.— Governor Josh Shapiro (@GovernorShapiro) February 19, 2023
We’re sending prayers to his loved ones, Temple Police, and the entire @TempleUniv community. May his memory be a blessing.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro tweeted that he and first lady Lori Shapiro were “devastated for the family of the Temple University police officer who was killed in the line of duty tonight, bravely serving his community.”
Shapiro on Sunday ordered all U.S. and commonwealth flags on public grounds to be flown at half-staff in honor of Fitzgerald.
The Temple University Police Association started a GoFundMe page for the Fitzgerald family.
“Officer Fitzgerald was a loving husband, father, friend, and public servant whose dedication to his family and community was unmatched,” said the page by Rossman Shaffer, secretary of the association. “Officer Fitzgerald loved being a police officer, and he will always be remembered for his fearlessness in fighting crime and his compassion for his community.”
Acting Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry thanked investigators for their work in tracking down a suspect.
"For the third time this year, the second time in less two weeks, Pennsylvania has suffered the tragedy of a police officer killed by the violence wrought by firearms," she said in a statement. "Today we join in mourning with the communities of Temple University and the City of Philadelphia, and the family of Officer Fitzgerald, who died a hero bravely responding to a dangerous and volatile situation.
"I want to offer my sincere condolences to his family and loved ones, who knew the danger he confronted in his job and supported him in his chosen profession - as do all families of law enforcement officers."
Joel Fitzgerald worked 17 years for the Philadelphia Police Department and came to Allentown from Missouri City, Texas, where he was chief. He became chief in Waterloo, Iowa, in 2020. Last year he was hired to lead the transit police in Denver, Colorado.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.