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25-year veteran known for love of family, job, church

Joseph A. Slobodzian, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2007, 10:25 PM

Philadelphia police officer Charles Cassidy had surgery today at Albert Einstein Medical Center after he was shot in the head during a robbery in West Oak Lane.

He was a reassuring, familiar presence on the streets of East Oak Lane, all the more remarkable because after 25 years Charles Cassidy remained passionate and unjaded about police work.

On Wednesday, those who know him were stunned to learn that the 54-year-old officer had become yet another victim of the gun violence washing over Philadelphia and other cities - shot in the head when he walked into a robbery at a North Broad Street doughnut shop.

"Chuck just had a wonderful quality about him," said Kelly McShain Tyree, an East Oak Lane business owner and a member and former head of the Oak Lane Community Action Association. "He was a lovely man, and the fact that he was able to sustain that heart and soul after all the time on that job says a lot. He was doing all this for the right reason, and I'm heartsick for his family."

Tyree, 40, said she would see Cassidy about four times a day driving in front of Under the Oak Cafe, at 804 Oak Lane, which she owns with her husband, Robert, and her brother, Devitt McShain.

About 4 p.m. Oct. 23, Tyree saw Cassidy up close when he was among the officers who responded to an armed robbery of her cafe. She had been tied up and left in the basement, and the robbers are still at large.

'Urban terrorism'

"This is urban terrorism," Tyree, fighting back tears, said of what is happening in the city. "This neighborhood is wonderful, and good people walk into this cafe every day, and we're saying, 'Hell, no! We are not going to let them take over our neighborhood.' "

Cassidy, too, was determined not to let that happen, Tyree said.

"He made his views about this very clear," she said.

The Rev. Joseph Graham, pastor of St. Jerome church in the Holme Circle neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia and a friend of the Cassidy family, stayed at Albert Einstein Medical Center with Cassidy's wife, Judith, his mother, and other relatives until the officer came out of surgery.

Graham said Judith Cassidy had been watching television when she heard a news break about an "off-duty police officer being shot."

"She thought, 'Well, it can't be Chuck because he's on duty.' But the report was wrong," Graham added.

Graham, 71, St. Jerome's pastor for 17 years, said the Cassidys were active parishioners.

"If I can sum it up, he was really a wonderful father, a real family man, and a great husband," Graham said. "Everything he did was about caring for his family."

The Cassidys have a son, Jody, a sophomore at Father Judge High School, and daughters Casey and Colby, who are at Gwynedd-Mercy College in Gwynedd Valley.

Words of praise

Graham said the best illustration of Cassidy's impact was the number of friends and neighbors who had left work to spend time with the family at Einstein. Others swelled the attendance at a previously scheduled 1:15 p.m. prayer service at St. Jerome to pray for Cassidy's recovery, the priest added.

Glory Philip, who lives next door to the Cassidys in their twin home on Willits Road, described the officer as "a very friendly person. He talks to everyone."

Next door, the Cassidys' side was decorated whimsically for a Halloween overshadowed by a true horror. Scores of little white ghosts hung from the branches of a fruit tree in the front yard; plastic pumpkins sat in the picture window.

Wednesday afternoon at Einstein, Nicholas Golden, 17, a Bishop McDevitt High School student who is Cassidy's godson, came outside to speak to reporters.

"He's such a strong man, we're really hoping he pulls through this," Golden said. "He has such a great sense of character. We never expected anything like this. He's such a cautious officer.

"He had a great sense of humor. He always made me laugh. It's just a terrible thing to happen."

Golden called the presence of so many fellow officers and others "a tribute."

East Oak Lane - roughly bordered by 15th Street on the west, Fifth Street on the east, Cheltenham Avenue on the north, and Chelten Avenue on the south - has remained a racially diverse and fairly stable neighborhood.

But as in other neighborhoods, problems caused by absentee landlords, drugs and guns have left their mark.

Cassidy had confronted gun violence in March when he and his partner from the 35th Police District, Officer Barry Delagol, faced down two suspects just after a man was shot in Logan.

The suspects, with firearms in hand, ran toward Cassidy and Delagol, and the two officers repeatedly ordered them to drop their weapons until they complied. The suspects were then arrested.

Wednesday, Robert Eddis, immediate past president of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police, returned shocked from the hospital after visiting Cassidy, with whom he once worked.

"What a great guy. Quiet guy, a family guy," Eddis said. "Everything was about his family. I mean his whole thing was his kids and his wife. Seeing them walk into the hospital, it was just total sadness."

"When is it going to stop?" Eddis asked. "When are the people in our city going to put an end to this? It's just got to stop."

Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Jennifer Lin, Michael Vitez and Andrew Maykuth.

Joseph A. Slobodzian, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

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