Officers Rally Around Former El Centro Police Chief Amid Devastating Diagnosis

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A group of North Texas police officers is rallying around their former chief of police, Joseph Hannigan, who has cancer.

They say, Hannigan, who helped save many lives during the Dallas police ambush, is now in need of help himself.

“Everything about him has always been and will always be about public service,” said Andrew Maughan, Dallas College police officer. “He’s absolutely fearless as a leader.”

Officer Maughan and several of his current and former colleagues jumped at the opportunity to speak about Hannigan.

“He means a lot to a lot of people,” said Cpl. Luis Leal.

Hannigan served in the military, later became a New York City police officer and firefighter, responding to the 9/11 attacks.

“Spent all that time digging through the rubble with everyone else,” said Maughan.

Hannigan went on to become chief of police at El Centro College during one of this city’s darkest moments: July 7, 2016.

“He’s the reason I’m alive, because of his actions on the night of the 7th,” said Maughan.

Maughan said Hannigan instinctively ordered him and his colleagues inside the building just before a gunman ambushed Dallas police and DART officers outside and rushed inside the college.

Hannigan had previously fought for training that proved vital that night, said his former officers.

“He was a leader who wanted all his officers to know what to do in a situation like that,” said Cpl. Rodrigo Garcia, who was working during the ambush.

NBC 5 interviewed the chief days after the ambush about his injured officers and the firefight inside the college.

Hannigan stepped away in 2018, many of his officers were unaware of his battle with pancreatic cancer.

A fight that is nearing an end.

The 60-year-old is now in hospice care, according to his wife, Jennifer.

“Just broke my heart seeing him going through all that,” said Garcia.

The officers are rallying around Hannigan’s wife. A GoFundMe page hsa been established to help cover funeral costs and medical bills for the man they got to know behind the badge.

“He made coming to work enjoyable,” said Leal. “Made police work enjoyable because you knew he always had your back.”

Melissa Jacobs is a former captain at the El Centro Police Department and worked closely with Hannigan.

She calls him a big ‘teddy bear’ of a man.

“He grabbed people off the street and take them into the store and would say ‘get what you want to eat today, buddy,’” she said.

They describe Hannigan as a devoted father to his adult children and his wife Jenn, who is also ill.

“She also has cancer that she currently is not fighting because that would leave nobody capable of caring for Joe,” said Maughan.

These officers hope to ease their former leader’s burden, allowing Hannigan to concentrate on what’s most important.

Asked what they’d like to tell their chief right now, each officer became emotional.

“I just want to thank him,” said Leal. “I don’t know how to do that with just words.”

“He was just the best example of a leader that I could ever have,” added Jacobs.

“[I want to say] thank you and we love him,” said Garcia.

Chief Hannigan’s wife Jennifer provided NBC 5 this statement:

"I am eternally and genuinely grateful for the amazing support we have received In such a short period of time. Joe truly gave himself to the communities he worked for his entire life. He is now in hospice care due to his battle with pancreatic cancer and yet he keeps asking me where he will work next! He can't help it, it's in his soul to help and to serve those that can't help themselves. This yearning was the impetus that drove him throughout his long career.

From doing something as simple as buying someone lunch to protecting those that could not protect themselves- he was a "cops cop!" In or out of uniform, it didn't matter.  He served without hesitation. 

He is now half his weight, in constant pain, and STILL has not complained or said "why me?". He has simply hunkered down, just like he would when taking on a new case; he has taken on this horrible disease. I love him and am so proud of his fortitude and the nobility with which he has faced this terrible trial.  I will continue to stand by him, my soulmate and partner, my best friend, with pride as he goes through the end of his journey."

If you would like to contribute to Chief Joseph Hannigan’s GoFundMe, click here.

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