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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  • by THUNDERCLAP79 Location: ROCKFORD on Apr 14, 2010 at 08:13 PM
    You shut up Greg! Just because you're a cop your point isn't the law. Hell your buddies shot a man who was defending his property and his friend while the robbers were running right past you guys. 80 years old! Damn. How would you feel if it was your grandfather who was murdered by incompetence? No, God will punish this police department with financial crisis to humble all of you. I can imagine the lawsuits generated as a result of this behavior on the part of some of our policemen. Get ready for the budget cuts to pay these civil judgments coming down the line Mr. Arrogant! You might not have a job for long. To think we tax payers give you 105,000.00 dollars a year to murder innocent people.
  • by Greg Location: Rockford on Jun 29, 2008 at 04:13 PM
    Funny how people with no law enforcement experience feel they can tell the police how to do their jobs. Shoot someone in the arm, during the heat of the moment, from some distance away? You've been watching too much TV, buddy. Police are taught to shoot "center mass" to stop the threat. I know, I'm a cop. If someone points a gun at the police, all bets are off. I feel sorry for the man, but hard of hearing or not, you don't point a gun at the police...period. As for being an accident investigator, she is a police officer first, and worked patrol for years. Don't say she had no experience...she's worked the streets for years. And she was there because she was in the area and went to assist the citizen who called for police help. If you people don't know what you're talking about, please just shut up. I wouldn't dare tell a carpenter or plumber how to do their jobs...don't tell us how to do ours.
  • by Maggie Location: Rockford on Oct 19, 2007 at 02:01 PM
    The point is here that the police were supposed to be investigating an armed robbery in progress, and not all of the robbers are accounted for. The only one we hear about is the one that was supposedly shot by this man. The rest ran right by the police, with police yelling for him to hit the ground too. Did they shoot at him when he didn't listen? No, they let him keep going, with belongings of other people in his duffel bag. Let's get back to the issue. Who was the bad guy here? The armed robbers, NOT THE MAN TRYING TO DEFEND HIS FRIENDS AND PROPERTY.
  • by Dana Location: Arkansas on Oct 19, 2007 at 10:57 AM
    Ok Karen and Tina. You are assuming the reports that have been given are true. When the police chief failed to give information it was clearly because they were trying to piece together something that just didn't happen. The 80 year old man, Vaughn, was at a place he owns. The three suspects came to his place with the intent to rob it. In this day and age it is not unusual for a man to defend himself and his property. His past shouldn't be a factor in all of this. The Rockford Police Department's past should be in question. They seem to be able to shot people at random and it deemed justified.
  • by DAVE Location: BELVIDERE on Oct 19, 2007 at 07:48 AM
    I THINK THE COPS ACTED INAPPROPRIATELY. YEAH THEY MIGHT HAD TO SHOOT MAYBE FITZGERALD ONCE IN THE ARM TO GET HIM TO LAY THE WEAPON DOWN, BUT TO KILL A 80 YEAR OLD MAN IS UNACCEPTABLE. THE SECOND OFFICER HAD NO BUSINESS TO SHOOT HE BECAME SCARED AND SHOOT HIS WEAPON. OF COURSE WHEN YOU SHOOT SOMEONE ESPECIALLY A 80 YEAR OLD MAN THE GUN HAS TO GO SOMEWHERE. I BELIEVE THAT WHEN FITZGERALD GOT SHOOT THE FIRST TIME THE GUN WAS ON THE WAY TO THE GROUND NOT BEING POINTED AT THE OFFICER. HOW TOUGH DO YOU THINK THIS 80 YEAR OLD MAN WAS. THERE HAD BETTER BE JUSTICE FOR THE SAKE OF THE COMMMUNITY. THIS IS WRONG AND OF COURSE THE CHIEF OF POLICE IS GOING TO STAND BEHIND THE OFFICERS HE KNEW THEM FOR A LONG TIME. WE AS A COMMUNITY NEED TO STAND UP TO THESE CROOKED OFFICERS.
  • by Karen Location: Capron on Oct 18, 2007 at 05:22 PM
    He didn't have to have a gun, he didn't have to point it at those officers and therefore he wouldn't have had to die that way. But just like everyone in this country, he had a choice and it appears like he made the wrong one, again. The tragedy is that because he didn't use the brain he was born with, his family and friends have to suffer, along with those officers that were put in a position of having to kill or be killed. So, instead of blaming a "dirty police force" or Chief Epperson, why not be questioning why at 1130p on a Tuesday night, would 2 or 3 armed men in ski masks, carrying duffle bags would be around an eighty year old man with a questionable history?
  • by Maggie Location: Rockford on Oct 18, 2007 at 12:43 PM
    I'm still trying to figure out what a traffic accident investigative officer was doing at a robbery call. She plainly did not have any experience and should not have been there. Mr. Fitzgerald and his family did not deserve what they got. Mr. Epperson certainly should stand behind his officers, right or wrong, but where is his compassion for this grieving family? His words will stick with the community a lot longer than anything else he does. There is a lot of mystery shrouding this incident that I for one hope gets some light shed on.
  • by Tina Location: Rfd on Oct 18, 2007 at 12:33 PM
    I find it interesting that Fitzgeralds family is critizing the police and calling them dirty when it was Fitzgerald himself who shot one of the robbery suspects when he was already on the ground and would have been on custody had he not been shot by Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald then turned the gun on the police, the very officers who were there to help him! I'm very sorry for the family of Fitzgerald. Regardless of what he did, it's always tragic when there is a loss of life. However, the officers were 100% justified in shooting Fitzgerald!
  • by Linda Location: Belvidere on Oct 18, 2007 at 06:58 AM
    Of course Chief Epperson would stand behind the officer(s) that killed that 80 year old man. He has to stand behind them now, because of his no confidence vote.
  • by Dana Location: Arkansas on Oct 18, 2007 at 06:21 AM
    You've got a dirty police force trying to cover up a costly mistake. He was a husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle who died tragically in a way that didn't have to happen. I pray the truth comes out and there will be justice for Vaugh J. Fitzgerald. My love and support are with you all.
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