Minnesota News

'God needed a hero': Mourners honor the life of officer Jamal Mitchell

A horse-drawn funeral carriage carries a casket
Members of an honor guard transfer the casket of the late Minneapolis police officer Jamal Mitchell at Maple Grove Senior High School on Tuesday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Friends, family, city leaders and several thousand uniformed officers from across the state and country gathered Tuesday in an emotional service to honor Minneapolis police officer Jamal Mitchell, who was killed in the line of duty May 30.

Through songs, prayers and stories, Mitchell was remembered warmly as someone who wanted to make a difference in the world, who stood true to the belief that “the only time you look down on a man is when you’re picking them up,” Denise Raper, Mitchell’s aunt, told the gathering at Maple Grove High School.

“Jamal's heart demonstrated ‘I care.’ It demonstrated the deep concern that no matter who you are or what difficulty you might face, I’m here to help you up,” she said. “Today his family and friends are here and we collectively agree that this was Jamal's purpose — to reach down and pick you up. This was Jamal's mission, and through our tears and heavy heart we collectively say mission accomplished.”

Mitchell was always a man with a plan, always trying to bring people together and support those around him, said Luke Weatherspoon, a friend and fellow officer who’d gone through the police academy with Mitchell.

Weatherspoon recalled getting calls from “Mitch” saying, “‘I checked your work schedule for XYZ day. I noticed that none of your squad partners are working … why don’t you come in early and we’re going to be partners that day.’ I wish I would have done that more.”

The day before he was killed, Weatherspoon added, Mitchell had taken his kids to the pool where he noticed another child struggling in the water. An admitted “sneakerhead” who loved his Nikes, Mitchell jumped in, sneakers and all, to save the child, he added.

He embraced the challenge of being a city police officer despite some telling him not to do it, he added, and he was an officer who liked to get out of the squad and talk to people and follow up with people he’d encountered.

“I’m calling on every officer in this building to think about Jamal the next time that you get into that squad car, and remember that he would have wanted you to get out of that car and engage with your communities,” he said.

Two fire trucks raise a large U.S. flag
Fire trucks raise a large U.S. flag outside the memorial service for slain Minneapolis Police officer Jamal Mitchell on Tuesday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

“Mitch is the hero that the city of Minneapolis needed. And at a time when we only have questions, I can tell you one answer that I have,” Weatherspoon said, recalling Mitchell’s death. “God needed a hero and he called on Mitch.”

Minneapolis police Chief Brian O’Hara praised Mitchell as a “guardian in our community” who represented “all that is good about the men and women” of law enforcement around the state and country.

He called him a “go-to” guy on the force and a role model. He recalled Mitchell’s heroism within in the first few days of being on patrol in Minneapolis rescuing an elderly couple from a burning home. “Jamal did not hesitate to answer that final call for service and he lived up to the highest standards of the Minneapolis Police Department.”

O’Hara said Mitchell had been posthumously awarded the city’s two highest police honors, a Medal of Honor and Purple Heart. It wasn’t about how he died, the chief added, “it is how he lived his life as a man up until the very end.”

The chief earlier spoke about how officers are coping with Mitchell’s death. He said it’s been especially difficult.

A man stands in front of a microphone.
Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara speaks to press before the day of officer Jamal Mitchell's memorial service on Tuesday.
Sarah Thamer | MPR News

“It's a small group of people who work the shift that he worked. It's a small group of people who went through the academy with him a little over a year ago,” said O’Hara. “And obviously, it's deeply affected all the members who responded that day and tried to stop an active shooter. They tried to save his life, as well as the life of members of our community.”

Mitchell, 36, was hired by the Minneapolis Police Department in 2022 as a cadet and attended the academy before going on duty. He moved to Minnesota about five years ago and had been living in Minneapolis with his long-term partner, Tori Myslajek, with whom he was raising four children ages 4, 7, 9 and 20.

Thousands pay respects to officer Mitchell during memorial service, procession

“Our family is completely devastated by our recent loss. Jamal was our whole world,” Myslajek said in a statement last week. “Jamal and I created a beautiful life in Minnesota, and he was deeply passionate about helping and serving the community of Minneapolis.”

‘The last time they saw their dad’

Before joining MPD, Mitchell was a real estate agent in his hometown of New Haven, Conn.

Though he’d only served as an officer for just a few years, Mitchell’s personnel file shows he made an immediate impact.

The file contains a letter of appreciation Mitchell received in October 2023. The letter writer says they had their purse stolen by a masked person.

A family poses for a photo
Jamal Mitchell and Tori Myslajek pose for a photo with their children.
Courtesy photo

“It was a scary situation,” they wrote. “The officer who responded to our call badge number 4819 could not have been more comforting, caring and efficient in his handling of the theft. He spent a long time with us always exhibiting the utmost professionalism and care. I felt like what happened to me was important and worthy of his time and expertise. The Minneapolis police department is lucky to have him on their force!” 

An investigation continues into the circumstances around Mitchell’s killing, including the deaths of the two men shot in a south Minneapolis apartment which sparked the initial 911 call for help. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is also investigating the shooting by the officers who killed the man who shot Mitchell. 

Following the service Tuesday, there was flyover salute and a final call ceremony where the officer’s badge number is broadcast with an end-of-watch confirmation when the officer does not respond.

A procession of emergency vehicles traced a route from the school to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to take his body back to Connecticut.

People hold up a banner and thin blue line flags on an overpass
A banner reading “Our Hero” hangs on the fencing along the Rockford Road overpass above I-494 in Plymouth, Minn. on Tuesday.
Stephen Maturen for MPR News

Before the service, on a rainy somber morning, Mitchell’s casket was brought to the service by a horse drawn carriage and honor guard. Inside it was placed on stage with a large portrait of Mitchell suspended above it and flowers all around.

Mike Emmert, a pastor at Eagle Brook Church, where Mitchell was a congregant, told the crowd that Myslajek, Mitchell’s partner, told him of the family’s night before he died. A doctor and anesthesiologist, Myslajek had come home from an especially long shift to find Mitchell cooking, which he hardly ever did.

“He was a terrible cook,” Emmert said, but he made the kids spaghetti and they all spent the evening together on the couch watching a movie. Later he carried his daughter upstairs and they got the kids to bed.

“What a loving memory for these children to remember their father,” Emmert told the mourners. “The last time they saw their dad.”

A photo of a police officer is taped to the window of a squad
A portrait of Minneapolis Police officer Jamal Mitchell is surrounded by badges from various police departments at a memorial for outside the Fifth Police Precinct in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Stephen Maturen for MPR News