From the time he was a student at Eastern Illinois University focusing on sociology and criminal justice, Conrad Gary knew he wanted to be a police officer, his relatives said Tuesday.
Growing up the middle child of three boys in southwest suburban Oak Lawn, Gary was the type of man who wanted to protect people and serve the public, said Michael Gary, his older brother.
“He was a cop in the Air Force, and that kind of just drove him wanting to be a cop even more and to protect people,” Gary said by phone from his home in Houston.
Conrad Gary attended Eastern Illinois from 2005 until 2009 and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He spent more than five years in the Air Force from 2010 until 2015 and half of that time was stationed in Germany, his relatives said. He was a decorated soldier who rose to the rank of sergeant and was stationed in Montana at the end of his service, according to a military spokesman. Gary decided to return to Chicago so he could be closer to his family and then joined the Chicago Police Department in March 2017, his brother and police sources said.
“I was nervous at first,” Michael Gary said. “My whole life I grew up in Chicago, and we knew what was happening. But that means I supported him.
“He loved every minute of it,” Gary said. “He was in a pretty rough district with crime and stuff like that, and he really enjoyed being a cop, the rush of being a cop, the action of being a cop.”
Conrad Gary, 31, was one of two Chicago police officers killed Monday when they were hit by a train, officials said. He and his partner, Eduardo Marmolejo, 36, were pursuing a shooting suspect on foot near Metra tracks when they were struck by an outbound South Shore train, according to police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
On Tuesday, his friends and relatives struggled with their loss, describing Gary as a selfless man and a devoted husband and father who loved being an officer.
“He was always a laid-back person,” Michael Gary said of his brother. “Everyone enjoyed him.”
Conrad Gary married his wife, Kelly, in 2011.
The couple had just become parents and had a 6-month-old daughter, Tess, said Kelly’s brother, Dan Kubil.
Kubil pointed to family portraits that demonstrated how Gary was fond of his newborn child. In one photo, Gary smiles as he cradles his daughter, her mouth clutching a pink pacifier. In another photo, Gary and his wife pose outside Navy Pier on the proud day that Gary was sworn in as a police officer.
Gary and his wife had been together for years, Kubil said, and they were settling into family life.
“My sister loved him so much, they had a good relationship,” Kubil said as he teared up. “My heart (expletive) breaks for her.”
Just before Thanksgiving, Conrad Gary and his family visited him in Houston, Michael Gary said. He didn’t know it would be the last time he’d see his brother.
During the visit, Conrad Gary showed extra attention to his young daughter, Michael Gary remembered. Even though he worked nights, instead of sleeping through the day, he would take a short nap and stay up with her.
Kubil frequently golfed with Conrad Gary, and the two shared season tickets for the Chicago Cubs. In 2016, they went together to Game 6 of the National League Championship Series where the Cubs beat the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“It was special,” Kubil said about going to the game with Gary. “They won, and we hugged each other.”
Gary was also especially close to his father, Kubil said.
“We are trying to wrap our heads around this,” he said.
On Tuesday, blue ribbons used to memorialize fallen police officers were tied around poles along 103rd Street in the family’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood on the Far South Side. And volunteers spent the afternoon placing similar ribbons on the trees outside the Calumet District office on East 111th Street, where both officers were assigned.
Portraits of the two were displayed in the lobby.
Five officers from the district have died this year, and Gary was known for his humor and the way he reached out to other officers, said Lt. Landon Wade.
“Conrad had 18 months on and he was a very studious (officer),” Wade said. “We’ve gone through a lot here, he’d always make sure he was the guy that walks up to one of the male officers and pats him on the back and tells him to hang in there.
“On our days that were quiet, you could see him making the atmosphere lighthearted.”
On Tuesday, officers on the afternoon shift drifted through their routines and kept busy with their usual activities.
“Today has been numb and surreal,” Wade said. “It’s indescribable. In 25 years, I’ve never seen a mood like this — somber understates how we feel.”
According to Guglielmi, the two officers were conducting surveillance after a ShotSpotter sensor picked up gunfire near 103rd Street and Dauphin Avenue about 6:20 p.m., police officials said.
They spotted a suspect scrambling up to the Metra tracks and were pursuing him on foot when they were hit by the train.
Gary and Marmolejo are among four Chicago police officers killed while on duty this year.
Chicago Tribune’s Lolly Bowean contributed.