Brother Rice teacher was stabbed to death, authorities say
BY STEVE METSCH and Donna Vickroy Sun-Times Media January 22, 2014 9:02PM
Longtime Brother Rice teacher Al Filan (right) was found dead Tuesday in his Orland Park home. | File photo
Updated: February 24, 2014 1:28PM
He was a beloved teacher and soccer coach from a politically prominent family, but on Wednesday students and colleagues alike were shocked to learn Al Filan was also a homicide victim, stabbed to death in his southwest suburban home.
Filan, a business teacher and business department chairman at Brother Rice High School, died of “multiple stab and incise wounds,” according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office, which ruled his death a homicide.
“This is devastating for Brother Rice. This is an unspeakable tragedy,” school president Kevin Burns said. “You’d never script something like this for a guy who devoted his life to helping people.”
Officers found Filan, 61, dead about 10:35 a.m. Tuesday in the kitchen of his house in Orland Park after police were called when he failed to report for work.
Filan taught at Brother Rice, in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community, for nearly 40 years and was a well-known soccer coach at Andrew High School in Tinley Park for more than a decade.
He’s the younger brother of veteran lobbyist William Filan, whose clients include the city of Chicago and red-light camera company Redflex. His younger sister, Denise Filan, is a Cook County Circuit Court judge at the Bridgeview courthouse, and he’s also a cousin of former state budget director John Filan, records show.
Burns said the mood at the high school Wednesday was “very somber, very sad” and described Filan as a “lifelong Crusader,” referring to the nickname of Brother Rice’s sports teams.
“He was here for 40 years. He was here at work every day. He was a very energetic, upbeat guy. He had a passion for his teaching,” Burns said. “He had great passion for the kids, and the kids loved him. His colleagues thought the world of him, too. ”
Brother Rice Principal Jim Antos said school officials are talking with students and discussing ways to move forward.
“As far as I can remember, Al never missed a day of school,” Antos said. “He was intense about being an educator. He would want all of us to continue.”
Orland Park police and members of the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force are investigating Filan’s murder. Police Cmdr. John Keating said “we’re working this case overnight, and we may get an update out [Thursday] if something changes.” He asked anyone with information about the case “no matter how trivial they feel it may be” to call Orland Park police at (708) 349-4111.
Keating declined to say what type of weapon was used or how many times Filan was stabbed.
“We have no reason to believe the offender or offenders are still in the area,” he said.
Asked if that meant Filan knew his killer, Keating said “we don’t know that yet.”
Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki worked with Filan for many years at Brother Rice. He described him as a “character with a good sense of humor who assumed a gruff exterior with the kids. He used to say, ‘Don’t be sugar britches’ to them.”
Zabrocki said Filan was a private person who was very involved with soccer but did not socialize a great deal with other staff members.
“We used to tease him about his hair. We’d say ‘You’ve got four strands that are four feet long, combed in circles,’” he said.
Ed Bara, who taught and coached at both Brother Rice and Andrew, said Filan “was energetic, professional, friendly and enthusiastic about everything. He was always working to get his students to be the best they could be.”
Bill Figel said he and Filan coached basketball at Brother Rice in 1980 and 1981, with Filan coaching the freshmen team and Figel the sophomores.
“Al was born to teach and coach,” Figel said. “This is a senseless killing of a good man who will be missed by all those he’s taught and coached over the years.”
Jessi Ghilardi, a student at Western Illinois University, was coached by Filan during her freshman year at Andrew.
“He was funny. We all loved him,” she said of the soccer team. “He called us ‘Yentas’ — little people who talk too much. So we called him Father Yenta.”
Dennis Duffy, director of recreational services for Evergreen Park, was a colleague of Filan’s for 34 years. He described him as very intelligent and having a great sense of humor.
“He was entertaining to say the least,” Duffy said. “We shared morning supervision duties for many years. It was always interesting.”
He said Filan loved sports and had a special rapport with the students, for whom it was a badge of honor to be called “sugar britches” by him.
Jim Casey, director of alumni services at Brother Rice, said that when actor and alumnus John C. Reilly returned to the school for a visit in 2003, he was asked which teacher he remembered most.
“He said, ‘Al Filan,’ ” Casey said.
Brother Rice student Charles Ryan, 17, of Worth, was in Filan’s Microsoft Office class freshman year and his Cisco software class during his sophomore and junior years. He said Filan could be odd but was a lot of fun.
“He was probably one of my favorite teachers,” Charles said. “He really knew what he was doing.”
Danny Spano, 17, of Alsip, said Filan was a funny guy with a crazy personality.
“He was always willing to joke around, but he was a great teacher,” he said.
Burns said a memorial service of some sort will be held for Filan.
“We will do something here at school, but we want to include his family and follow their wishes when we do that,” Burns said. “He’s literally taught generations. We’ve had parents come in and say, ‘Make sure my kid gets Mr. Filan. I want him to have the same experience I did.’ That’s a nice tribute to the man.”
Contributing: Mike Nolan