Rockford Police Kill 80-Year Old

By: Alice Barr
By: Alice Barr

"We were sitting out on the porch, with my two little nephews, then I heard a bunch, a lot of gunfire, I ran 'em inside, lay them on the floor then I seen a bunch of cops coming down Kishwaukee," says neighbor Joseph Carter.
The officers were responding to a possible armed robbery in the 3300 hundred block of Kishwaukee Street. Chief Chet Epperson says at least three armed men were there when police arrived. One fled, police ordered another down onto the ground, then spotted the third partially hidden in a doorway holding out a rifle.
It was 80-year old Vaughn Fitzgerald. Officer Cheryl Bunjter told him she was the police and to drop his gun. Instead he fired in the air, then at the man lying on the ground, hitting him in the arm, then pointed the rifle back at Buntjer. She fired at Fitzgerald, as another officer, Jeffrey Oberts entered the scene.
"The second officer observes the barrel of the gun to swing toward his direction and at this time the officer fires his weapon toward the active shooter," says Chief Epperson.
Epperson would not say which officer killed Fitzgerald.
Neighbors hung a sign across from the scene saying "I don't want to be # 5!". This is the fourth officer-involved shooting this year, the third deadly one.
Neighbors say Fitzgerald ran a poker game at the scene of the shootings. They believe he was being robbed during a game.
"Trying to defend himself. Didn't know it was the police," says Carter.
The man who runs a business next door to the scene rents from Fitzgerald and has known him a long time. He says Fitzgerald was very deaf and might not have been able to hear what officers were saying to him.
Epperson says Fitzgerald's condition doesn't change the fact officers felt their lives were at stake.
"I don't think you can put an age on the barrel of a gun. When the barrel of a gun is pointed at you, regardless of if it's a young person or an old person, you've got the barrel of a gun pointed at you. So they acted appropriately and I stand behind them," says Epperson.
Epperson spoke at length about the threat of illegal guns in our community and how much more difficult that makes Rockford officers' jobs. He said whether or not Fitzgerald's gun was illegal was still under investigation.
As for the suspect who fled, he was armed and carrying a duffle bag when he left and police are not saying whether he is still on the loose.
Officer Bunjter has been on the force 18 and a half years, Oberts seven and a half. Both officers are on administrative duties pending a grand jury investigation.


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