Slain Orlando officer no stranger to peril

Officer Alfred L. Gordon Sr. was fatally shot off-duty during a robbery, the suspect remains at large.

Related: Off-duty Fla. officer killed during robbery

By Willoughby Mariano, Henry Pierson Curtis and Jim Leusner
The Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. Orlando police Officer Alfred L. Gordon Sr. should have beaten the odds.

The former homicide detective had street savvy, honed by 18 years on the police force. He had the authority of a decorated U.S. Army captain who once commanded 220 soldiers.

None of his skills protected him from a violent death early Thursday during what investigators think is a random robbery at a walk-up automated teller machine.

Gordon, 52, was discovered gunned down shortly before 1 a.m. near the Bank of America branch at Silver Star and North Hiawassee roads. An Orange County deputy sheriff working off-duty at a nearby shopping center found his body inside Gordon's 1998 green Cadillac DeVille.

The veteran officer served as a deacon in his church, sang bass in the choir, had three children and volunteered in honor guards when coffins of military personnel passed through Orlando International Airport.

His killing saddened Orlando-area law-enforcement leaders already weary after two record years of murders and other violence. Pine Hills and other neighborhoods in west Orange County have seen more than their share of deadly attacks.

The Sheriff's Office has identified the intersection near where Gordon died as one of the county's most dangerous for robbery and other crimes.

Orlando police Chief Mike McCoy and Orange Sheriff Kevin Beary described Gordon's death as a sign of the times and asked residents to rally against violence.

"We need to come together as a community and pay attention to our values," McCoy said.

Beary called Gordon's slaying "another senseless, violent tragedy that is happening all too often in this community."

No arrest had been made as of late Thursday.

Gordon, who turned 52 on Monday, lived near the bank and was off-duty at the time he was shot. The death was called out initially as a possible suicide because Gordon's gun was found in plain sight, but investigators later determined he was slain.

Sheriff's homicide investigator Sgt. Allen Lee said video from surveillance cameras was being reviewed and that detectives are looking for people who made ATM transactions before and after the time of the killing.

Authorities asked anyone with information to call Crimeline, which is offering $20,000 for information leading to an arrest. Officials with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 25, which represents OPD officers and sergeants, were in the process late Thursday of adding an additional $10,000 to the reward.

Gordon became a police officer because he wanted the best for his children, he wrote in his 1988 application to OPD. At the time, he had 11 years of experience in the U.S. Army and had received the Army Achievement Medal as well as two Army Commendation Medals.

But the moves required of military personnel were too hard on his children, he wrote. He didn't want them to falter at school. So Gordon started with OPD in 1989, and by 1991 was working in the homicide unit.

A misdemeanor charge in 1992 for pointing a pistol at a citizen during an off-duty argument ended with a demotion, suspension and a sentence of community service.

"But anything he did, he has certainly made amends," said Capt. Paul Rooney, Gordon's supervisor in his last assignment, as a patrol officer at the airport.

Gordon returned to policing and had a dozen letters of commendation and appreciation in his personnel file.

During the past six years, he became a favorite with OIA workers and travelers who were lost and needed help, Rooney said.

The veteran officer was patient with them, walking with them to the baggage carousel or other airport locations if they couldn't find their way alone.

Gordon, a former military policeman, participated in The Fallen Soldier Program at the airport, in which police officers act as a welcoming honor guard to meet coffins of military personnel on the airport tarmac.

"When they flew the bodies back over for burial, he was the first to volunteer," Rooney said.

In his spare time, Gordon lived with flair.

He wore sharp suits. He played a fierce chess game. He mastered the piano and organ. A deacon at Community Baptist Church in Pine Hills, he sang in the choir, filling the church with the sound of his deep, bass voice.

Gordon was a lively, vibrant man, said Sgt. Todd Pursley, who Gordon recruited in 1993 and mentored as a young police officer.

"There was never a dull moment with Al. You never knew what he was going to do or say next," Pursley said.

Although he was divorced from his ex-wife, Beverly, the college sweethearts had reconciled about a year ago and recently bought tickets for a cruise, said Pursley, who was serving as a family spokesman.

Gordon worked his final shift from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday. Beverly Gordon returned home at about 11 p.m. They spent an hour or so together before Gordon left for the bank, investigators said.

Hours later, Rooney and OPD senior chaplain Andrew Wade broke the news to Gordon's stunned ex-wife and son.

"More than anything, it shows the life and time we live in these days," Rooney said. "You just never know. You have to always be on guard."

Thirteen Orlando police officers have died on duty since 1876, according to The Officer Down Memorial Page Inc. Web site.

Sam Hoffman, labor chairman for the union that represents city police, said that in his 30 years of experience, he can't recall an Orlando officer dying off-duty in a random act of violence.

"It just goes to show you that crime can affect anybody, including someone in law enforcement," Hoffman said.

A longtime neighbor found Gordon's death hard to believe.

"It's such a shock. My dear, dear friend," Vernal Johnson said, then kissed the fingers of his right hand. "Oh, what a beautiful, beautiful man. My God."

Johnson moved to Pine Hills 20 years ago. A year later, the Gordons moved in across the street. Families on their cul-de-sac visited regularly, especially to celebrate holidays and birthdays.

Even after Gordon moved out and bought a house for himself a mile away, the officer often returned most recently to celebrate the 70th birthday of Johnson's wife.

"Almighty God, have mercy on him," Johnson said. "To die like this is so sad."
Copyright 2007 Orlando Sentinel

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