Evening Vigil Planned for Slain Officer - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Evening Vigil Planned for Slain Officer

The Owens Family The Owens Family
Officer Derek Owens, Wife, and Children Officer Derek Owens, Wife, and Children
Suspected Shooter: Willie Wheeler Suspected Shooter: Willie Wheeler

CLEVELAND (AP) - An early evening candlelight vigil is planned in the southeast Cleveland neighborhood where a police officer was shot to death over the weekend.

Meanwhile, a man arrested in the shooting death of a police officer remained in jail Sunday without being charged, and his mother said the 19-year-old is innocent.

Willie Wheeler was arrested Friday night shortly after officer Derek Owens was wounded while chasing a suspect through the neighborhood, his mother, Lashon Wheeler said.

Her son has past convictions for disorderly conduct and drug abuse, but he also has perfect attendance at high school and is on a path to turning his life around, she said.

"He is not a troubled kid," Lashon Wheeler said. "He was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Police, who haven't released the name of the man they arrested, continued to hold him in jail on suspicion of aggravated murder and felonious assault on a police officer.

"We developed some intelligence within hours indicating that this male played a role in the shooting," Lt. Thomas Stacho said.

Police recovered three firearms at various locations in the neighborhood but would not say where.

The investigation continued Sunday, Stacho said. Police can hold someone in jail up to 72 hours without charges, he said.

"When we're ready to charge him or release him, we'll do that," Stacho said.

Lashon Wheeler said her son didn't shoot Owens.

"My fear is that someone is railroading him," she said. "It will come out. There is a God. This is serious."

Owens, 36, and another officer approached a group of men drinking beer Friday night inside the garage of a vacant house and chased them when they started to run away, police said.

Owens caught up with one of the men, who turned around and shot Owens in the stomach just beneath his bulletproof vest, police said. He underwent surgery at MetroHealth Medical Center but died at 12:13 a.m. Saturday, the hospital said.

"It's a tragic loss," Police Chief Michael McGrath said.

Owens, a 10-year veteran of the department, is survived by a wife, an 8-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son.

Police at the scene rushed Owens to the hospital themselves. Officers were initially optimistic that Owens would survive, said Patrolman Kevin Grady, who was among those at the hospital.

"Guys said Derek was joking in the car on the way to the hospital that he was worried about getting killed by the driving of the policemen," Grady said. "He said, 'Let me out here. You can flip this car, I'll walk."'

The neighborhood Owens was patrolling Friday night is a rampant drug market, where dope dealers protect their turf with violence and the sound of gunfire is common, neighbors said.

Many residents have fled to escape crime; others have been forced out of their homes by the foreclosure crisis, Councilman Kenneth Johnson said.

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