By Adam Sege and Patrick Svitek
BELLWOOD, Ill. — An off-duty Cook County sheriff's investigator was fatally shot while breaking up an armed robbery outside a family holiday party Friday night in west suburban Bellwood, police said.
Authorities said Cuauhtemoc Estrada, a 50-year-old former Marine, had been attending a family gathering Friday evening at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall, which is located on 30th Street of St. Charles Road.
Sheriff Tom Dart said that he had worked with Estrada for years, and that "He was an amazing person, funny, caring, thoughful. [It's] just horrifically tragic. I mean, everyone's just stunned."
Dart told WGN-TV that investigators are working on multiple leads in the slaying.
The shooting happened around 7:30 p.m., after Estrada stepped outside and witnessed an armed robbery taking place in the building's parking lot, said Andre Harvey, Bellwood's director of public safety.
The sheriff's officer attempted to intervene and was shot in the chest while reaching for his weapon, Harvey said at the scene early this morning, as investigators remained on the street collecting evidence. It was not clear whether Estrada was carrying a service weapon or a personal one.
Estrada was pronounced dead at Loyola University Medical Center 8:08 p.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.
Police kept several streets near the crime scene closed to traffic into the early morning. Sheriff Tom Dart, who had known Estrada, remained on the scene hours after announcing the death in an impromptu press conference, emerging about 1:15 a.m. from a meeting of police supervisors inside a bank on St. Charles Road.
The sheriff's office is working with Bellwood police on the case, said Ben Breit, a spokesman for the sheriff.
"(Estrada) was an exceptional investigator, but an even better man who loved his family, his friends and his country," Breit said in a statement. "Quite simply, he made this world a better place and will be missed by all whose lives he touched."
A procession of law enforcement officers accompanied Estrada's body from the hospital to the medical examiner's office.
As of about 1:30 a.m., no suspects were in custody in the slaying. Police did not say early this morning how many suspects were believed to have been involved.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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