Hundreds of Temple community members gather to celebrate the life of Sergeant Christopher Fitzgerald with his family
A vigil was held at the Bell Tower on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, to honor and celebrate the life of Sergeant Christopher Fitzgerald. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff gathered with members of the Fitzgerald family, the Temple University Police Department and President Wingard.
Sergeant Christopher David Fitzgerald lived many roles, and he played them all with joy and love. He was a father, husband, son, community member and Temple University police officer. He had a handsome face, easy laugh and a quick sense of humor. He doted on his children, called his daughter “princess,” and felt a deep responsibility to support the children in the North Philadelphia neighborhood. He was proud to be part of Temple Police and had amassed a collection of Temple mugs and t-shirts at home for his family to instill that same sense of pride in them. He was quick to take overtime shifts, sacrificing precious time with his family, because he knew the critical role TUPD plays on campus and was always willing to help when it was needed. He also played an active role in community programming that aimed to reduce gun violence across Philadelphia. Sergeant Christopher David Fitzgerald was many things, chief among them, he was a great man with a beautiful soul.
This is the portrait of Christopher Fitzgerald that his family painted with loving words for the Temple community during a vigil at the Bell Tower on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff joined the Fitzgerald family and the Temple University Police Department to honor and remember the sergeant who was shot and killed in the line of duty three days earlier.
Hundreds of Temple community members attended the vigil and the Fitzgerald family repeatedly thanked the large crowd for being there to honor the memory of Sergeant Christopher Fitzgerald. (Photo by Joseph V. Labolito)
Imam Quaiser Abdullah, assistant professor of instruction at the Lew Klein College of Media and Communication, opened the vigil by explaining that we are all connected as a community in this moment and encouraged everyone to take this time to reflect. “It is loss that makes us hold a mirror to ourselves to ask what our legacy will be,” he said. He encouraged the Temple community to not only consider their legacy but to also find inspiration from the values that were important to Fitzgerald.
“There is no better honor we can provide him than by committing to the values he held close,” he said. Abdullah also honored the Temple University officers present at the ceremony and acknowledged that the work they do every day makes a difference in the Temple community.
Rabbi Daniel Levitt, executive director of Hillel at Temple University, and Father Shaun Mahoney, director of Temple Newman Center, also took moments throughout the ceremony to lead prayers in their own faiths and provide their own words of comfort to those gathered.
“We don’t need to know him to be inspired by him. Be inspired to do one act of kindness to make the world a better place in memory of Chris,” said Rabbi Levitt.
Father Mahoney echoed similar encouragement, highlighting the causes that were of particular importance to Christopher Fitzgerald. “He had a special attentiveness to the underserved and special dedication to working with youth. May his life continue to inspire goodness in our community,” he said.
Joel Fitzgerald, the father of Sergeant Christopher Fitzgerald, took a moment to address the Temple students directly in his speech. “[Our family is] devastated. But we know that there is hope and that hope comes from you students being here today. Knowing that you will go out and be leaders one day. Knowing that you have a purpose, you have the same spirit of service just like my son,” he said. (Photo by Joseph V. Labolito)
President Wingard acknowledged that “every day, members of our community step onto this campus to help make the world a better place,” and this mindset defines the Temple community of which Sergeant Fitzgerald was a part. “He put his life on the line to protect this community,” Wingard said. “For us, it has to be a catalyst for an outpouring and compassion of love and of grace, that is the only thing that can combat this epidemic of gun violence that has stricken this nation."
Gianni Quattrochi, Temple Student Government president, Class of 2023, thanked the Temple police officers for the work they do each day protecting the community and encouraged students to strive to live as Sergeant Fitzgerald did, with love and passion. “Words will never be enough to express our gratitude to Officer Fitz,” he said. Quattrochi also addressed the Fitzgerald family directly on behalf of Temple students. “To the family of Officer Fitzgerald, we offer our deepest condolences and support, and he will never be forgotten by any of us,” said Quattrochi.
Sergeant Fitzgerald’s friend and partner, TUPD Officer Vincent Williams-Bey; his wife, Marissa Fitzgerald and father, Joel Fitzgerald, then took turns honoring him, painting an intricate picture of who he was both in his personal and professional lives. They also each noted how immensely touched and grateful they were that so many Temple students were present at the vigil.
Williams-Bey recounted his time working alongside Fitzgerald and how inspired he was by his partner’s unwavering dedication to his family and the Temple community. “From his first day to his last day, Officer Fitz was running around this campus trying to prevent crime and conduct meaningful policing. He served this community,” he said.
With loving words, Sergeant Christopher Fitzgerald’s wife, Marissa Fitzgerald, and his father, Joel Fitzgerald, painted an intricate portrait of Christopher for the Temple community. (Photo by Joseph V. Labolito)
Marissa Fitzgerald detailed the wonderful role he played in their family as a committed and loving husband and father. She also emphasized how much his job meant to him. “My husband loved being a cop. It brightened up his life, helping the students and Temple community stay safe. This job was his dream and his world. He was so proud to wear that uniform,” Marissa said. She explained that he had “all the Temple mugs and T-shirts" and told of a time when she teasingly texted him a photo of a Villanova T-shirt. Sergeant Fitzgerald wrote back, ‘Girl, put that away, we’re Temple Owls now,’ and brought back a Temple tee for her that day. Before she left the stage, she made a promise to the Temple community and to her husband. “I promise that I will uphold his goal to make Philadelphia safer with less guns. You did such a good job, baby, your brothers and sisters and I will take it from here. You rest now.”
Joel Fitzgerald and his wife spent their careers in law enforcement, so he told the crowd that his son was well aware of the risks of the job. Yet, despite knowing those risks, Joel explained that his son stepped into a career of law enforcement because he had “a servant’s heart.” He also took a moment to address the Temple students directly. “You came here today because you cared. What’s going to change our city is you going out to push for change. [Our family is] devastated. But we know that there is hope and that hope comes from you students being here today. Knowing that you will go out and be leaders one day. Knowing that you have a purpose, you have the same spirit of service just like my son.”
The ceremony closed with a spoken-word performance by Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, associate professor in the School of Theater, Film and Media Arts, celebrating the work of police officers and other essential workers, and master of music student Adam Rodgers singing “Amazing Grace.” Then Boyer graduate student musicians Anthony Casella, Jacob Flaschen, Hannah Edie, Catherine Holt and Jason Costello, played an instrumental version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as the family and Temple police officers made their way out of the service.
As the final notes of music hung in the air and the crowd began to dissipate, a rainbow was spotted arching its way over Temple’s campus.
More information about Sergeant Fitzgerald and how to support his family can be found here.
This is a very difficult time for everyone in the Temple community. University counseling and support services are available for students, faculty and staff in need of assistance.