Slain Detroit cop’s family: ‘He was truly a hero’

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Sterling Heights — Detroit police Sgt. Kenneth Steil wasn’t just a cousin to Michael Francescutti, he was his best friend.

Francescutti reflected on that tight bond Thursday, less than a week after Steil was killed in the line of duty, as family members and friends gathered while struggling to deal with the tragedy.

“My cousin was well loved,” said Francescutti as he stood outside the Wujek Calcattera & Sons funeral home. “He was loved by everyone who met him. There are going to be a lot of people stepping in to teach (his sons) about their father and the amazing man he was.

“He was truly a hero. If you were to call him a hero, he probably would have said he wasn’t. He was just doing his job.”

The 42-year-old Grosse Pointe Farms man recalled difficult moments endured by his family this week, particularly time spent with Steil’s wife, Joann, and two boys, William, 5, and Alexander, 3.

“To be there when (Joann) told the 3- and 5-year-old that their dad was in heaven,” he said. “To hold my 5-year-old godson’s hand as we walked up to the casket to see his father and all he wanted was for him to open his eyes. It’s so surreal. It doesn’t seem real.”

Police say Steil, 46, was struck on Sept. 12 near his underarm when pellets from a sawed-off shotgun struck around his bullet-proof vest.

The 20-year department veteran had been chasing 21-year-old Marquise Cromer on Seven Mile on Detroit’s east side when Cromer allegedly fired at Steil. Cromer was wanted for allegedly shooting his father and carjacking a 23-year-old man the day before. Cromer faces charges of murder of a peace officer, first-degree murder and resisting and obstructing police officer causing death.

Steil died Saturday at the hospital from complications from the gun wound, developing a blood clot that killed him.

“My cousin put his life on the line to save people and to protect people,” Francescutti said. “They weren’t his family. They weren’t his friends. He didn’t even know them. But this was his calling. He was out there protecting them. He left his wife and his kids every day not knowing if he was going to come back. After he got shot he said, ‘I’m so glad I have a second chance to raise my boys.’ Those boys meant the world to him. Now, he doesn’t.”

Francescutti said he is gathering letters and photos of his cousin to share with William and Alexander.

“It’s fortunate and unfortunate that they aren’t going to remember this,” he said. “All these wonderful stories I hear people telling about my cousin, I want to give to the boys.”

George Brikho, 39, Troy, added Thursday that his brother-in-law was a genuine soul and God-fearing man. He said he loved helping people and working for the city of Detroit.

Steil wasn’t going to give up protecting the streets of Detroit, Brikho said.

“We asked him many times ... you did your time. You have children now. Take a desk job. Take an easy job,” Brikho said. “He said, ‘No, I can’t do that to my guys. I want to be able to defend them if something bad happened.’ ”

Brikho said the past week has been an emotional roller coaster for the family.

“We’re a very a compassionate loving family, a united family,” he said. “When you take something we love and adore, it’s like ripping your heart out. Especially when it’s such a person with Ken’s character. He was a man of all men. He feared nothing.”

Brikho said a large turnout for Steil at the funeral home Thursday evening was humbling.

“It’s the people that help us get through this rough time,” he said. “The prayer.”