Several unpleasant encounters with police when Thomas Orr was a college student in Jefferson City made him want to be a cop.
“There were times when he might have gotten pulled over or some of our friends would get pulled over and we were treated not the best,” former classmate Joseph Simmons Jr. said Monday. “But Thomas said he would be different. He wanted and understood that he had be that change.”
Since 2015, Orr – an African-American male – had worked as an officer in Lee’s Summit and sought to be the change he spoke of.
Orr, 30, was off duty on Sunday when he was fatally shot at a day party at Californos restaurant in Westport. Police said Orr, who also was a middle school resource officer, was not the intended target. He was an innocent bystander.
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No arrests have been made and police continued their investigation on Monday. Police said there were more than 200 people at the party but only three have stepped forward to speak to investigators.
After the shooting, Mayor Sly James remained at the crime scene for several hours along with Police Chief Rick Smith.
On Monday, Lee’s Summit Police Chief Travis Forbes said in a tweet: “Officer Orr’s loss has been a shock to our dept. We are deeply saddened.”
In a statement a short time later, Lee’s Summit police said: “The men and women of the Lee’s Summit Police Department are mourning the death of Officer Thomas Orr. The LSPD is working with investigators with Kansas City Police Department to generate leads and bring Officer Orr’s killer to justice.”
Orr had been with the Lee’s Summit Police Department since March 2015. Before that, he worked for the Marshall (Mo.) Police Department.
Police at first said the victim was shot after arguing with another man. However, further investigation revealed that Orr was an innocent bystander who was not involved in the disturbance.
On Monday, Orr’s sister, Jade Orr, posted a message about her brother’s death on Instagram.
“My brother is gone and because I’m at a loss for words, in this moment, I’ll just say this. You’ll always be a part of me, you’ll always be my twin, and I will love you forever. Until we meet again.”
The Lee’s Summit police chief also tweeted about Orr’s commitment to the community.
“Officer Orr was someone who truly wanted to make a positive difference in this world. What a loss to our community and society,” Forbes said in a tweet.
The Lee’s Summit School District issued a statement about Orr’s death Monday morning. The district said Orr had just started work as a school resource officer on Aug. 14.
“We are heartbroken by the tragic loss of Officer Orr,” the statement said. “During his brief time as a school resource officer at Bernard Campbell Middle School, he impressed our staff with his positive attitude and his focus on students. In just three short days with students last week, he was already making connections and building rapport.”
Orr’s father, Thomas Orr Sr., said the family was struggling in dealing with the loss but have placed their refuge in God.
“We are depending on that God is in control,” Orr said. “We know that if you live right then you will see him again. We know that Thomas was a Christian young man and never strayed away.”
The younger Orr had just recently picked up a new hobby, photography and had traveled to Cuba, Malaysia and Thailand. Orr also has a younger brother.
Simmons said he met Orr in 2008 when the two had transferred to Lincoln University in Jefferson City. Orr, who grew up in South Holland, Ill., which is outside Chicago. Before enrolling at Lincoln, Orr attended the University of Houston.
“I can’t say enough about him,” Simmons, who along with Orr were initiated as undergraduate members into the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity at Lincoln. “Anybody who encountered Thomas, he definitely left a positive mark in their life.”
As college students, Simmons and Orr frequently talked about their career plans after graduation.
“He had always been an outstanding guy but those dreams, those aspirations that we always talked about they were coming to pass,” Simmons said. “He was doing everything that he wanted to do (with his life).”
As a school resource officer, Orr enjoyed working with children and encouraged them to excel.
Simmons said he was devastated by the loss of his friend.
“I don’t understand God’s reasoning for this, but I still have to give him praise and realize that I have to look at the bigger picture here,” he said.