When Robert Soto joined the Chicago Police Department in 1985, his wife lost sleep worrying about him.
"I was afraid it was going to cost him his life," said Elda Negron, who divorced Soto after a 14-year marriage but remained friends with him.
"He wanted to be a police officer since he was little," Negron said. "He thought he was going to get in there and stop all the crime in Chicago."
Soto -- who started out in some of Chicago's toughest districts as a beat officer and advanced to detective during his 23-year career -- was off duty early Wednesday when he and a woman were fatally shot while they sat in a car in the 3000 block of West Franklin Boulevard.
Kathryn Romberg, 45, was pronounced dead at the scene. Soto, 49, died about 3:05 a.m. Thursday at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Police said Soto told officers someone had tried to rob him. He gave police a description of three assailants. About two weeks ago, another armed robbery took place about a block away.
Soto was a hardworking, straightforward officer who did anything he was asked, said Soto's former boss Robert Hargesheimer, commander of the Youth Investigations Section.
Hargesheimer said he visited Soto and his family in the hospital and "reassured them that anything we can do will be done to catch the perpetrators."
For about nine years, Soto monitored curfew violations and school absenteeism, Hargesheimer said. He earned 55 honorable mentions during his career, officials said.
"He had a lot of friends here," Hargesheimer said. "It's very sad up here."
Soto, known as Bob, joined the Bomb and Arson Section in January.
Before he became a cop, he worked in public relations for the Chicago Sun-Times, where he developed a friendship with legendary columnist Irv Kupcinet.
Soto was one of a few dozen Chicago Police officers who scrambled to New York after 9/11 to assist in the recovery effort.
"This is all about brotherhood," Soto said at the time.
A Sun-Times story described how Soto and other officers trudged up the stairs of broken high-rises to search for victims of the terror attacks. They worked side by side with New York police.
"He was always there on the front lines ready to volunteer," his former wife said.
A former partner, John Paskey, was in New York with Soto.
"One day, he said, 'I don't care what I gotta do, I'm going.' I said, 'Bobby, so am I.' "
Negron said Soto was happily remarried. He and his wife, Jennifer, loved to hold barbecues, and Negron and her husband would attend. "We remained very close," she said.
Negron said she and Soto have an adult son and daughter from their marriage.
When she remarried, she had another son and daughter. Sometimes, Soto would help her out and pick them up from school, she said.
Soto also took care of a brother -- a military veteran -- who suffered serious head injuries when he was robbed in Chicago, Paskey said.
"He was selfless in taking care of his brother," Paskey said.
Romberg was a supervisor in the Division of Child Protection at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, where she worked for 13 years. She and her 27-year-old daughter lived in a gentrified section of the violence-plagued neighborhood straddling East Garfield Park and Humboldt Park.
Friends said Romberg planned to spend the evening before the shooting with a man she just met -- a detective she believed was unmarried.
Police did not provide information about why they were in Soto's sport-utility vehicle.
One of Soto's handguns was locked in the glove box and police have found a second handgun he owned, a law enforcement source said. He was wearing his police star around his neck when he was shot, the source said. Police said a car was spotted speeding from the scene after the shooting.
The Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge No. 7 is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of whoever killed Soto and Romberg.
Visitation for Romberg is from 6 to 9 p.m. today at Michalik Funeral Home, 1056 W. Chicago Ave. Mass will be Saturday at St. John Cantius Church, 825 N. Carpenter.
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