By GRANT MORGAN
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The Keltner family grew in number Thursday.
Lawmakers took time out from their session Thursday at the Capitol to honor the service of McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Keltner, who was shot and killed March 7 while police served an arrest warrant at a Rockford hotel.
“Your family has grown immensely, because every law enforcement officer, every first responder, is not part of it,” a teary-eyed Rep. John Cabello (R-Machesney Park) said to Keltner’s family on the House floor. “We here on the floor are a family, and we are now a part of your family, and here for anything you need.”
Keltner’s wife, Becki, their two young boys Carson and Caleb, and his mother, father and father-in-law met with lawmakers in the House gallery. They also mourned privately with Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday.
Cabello joined Reps. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills), Steven Reick (R-Woodstock), Allen Skillicorn (R-East Dundee) and Tom Weber (R-Lake Villa) in sponsoring a house resolution honoring Keltner. It was adopted shortly after Keltner’s death and read Thursday morning as the House’s first order of business.
While introducing the resolution, McSweeney called Keltner a “hero” who was “killed in the line of duty protecting us.”
Reick addressed comments to the family’s two young boys, saying “what we’re doing today is a sign of respect for who your father was and what he did.”
“Nothing will bring your father back to you,” Reick said, “but you must know, and will learn, that in this world there are bad things and bad people, and we hire people like your father to stand between us and them. And sometimes they don’t come home.”
Keltner, a 13-year veteran of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Department, also served on the U.S. Marshals Service’s Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Force.
It was in that capacity that he joined officers responding to a fugitive situation on the morning of March 7 at a Rockford hotel, where 39-year-old Floyd Brown was sheltered with his girlfriend and his own firearms and ammunition, according to newspaper accounts of the incident.
After allegedly firing a high-powered rifle at officers who arrived at his hotel room door, Brown jumped out of the third-floor window and shot Keltner, who was in the parking lot, in the head, before fleeing and leading officers on an hours-long car chase and standoff.
The chase ended with a standoff in a ravine along Interstate 55 north of Lincoln, where Brown was arrested. He has been indicted on a variety of charges, including multiple counts of murder and illegal possession of firearms, by both federal and Winnebago County grand juries.
Brown has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges, for which he could be sentenced to death. The state charges from Winnebago County carry a maximum sentence of natural life in state prison.
Shortly after the incident, Keltner was transported to a local hospital, where he died from the gunshot wounds six hours later.
Several days later, Keltner’s wife, Becki, whom he met while a student at Western Illinois University in 2004, released a heartfelt letter about her husband and family.
“My husband was a ‘cop’s cop,’” the letter, which McSweeney read to House members Thursday, said. “He loved everything about his job and looked forward to going to work every day.”
Becki added that, as a “true patriot” who “wanted to protect the people of this country,” Keltner could not have been stopped from joining the U.S. Marshals’ fugitive task force when he was selected.
“I knew it was dangerous, but he was smart, strong, and great at what he did,” the letter said.
House Resolution 186 added to this sentiment, calling Keltner “a dedicated officer and lover of adventure” who “bravely volunteered for a team that chased ‘the worst of the worst’ criminal offenders.”
“We know we cannot stop things like this from happening,” Rep. Cabello said to Keltner’s family. “But we can make sure you know we’ll do our jobs to make sure he is never forgotten.
“You don’t know how many people your husband helped,” he added. “But he changed so many people’s lives for the better.”
Along with the appearance in the House gallery, the Keltner family also took a tour of the House chamber with Speaker Mike Madigan, and met privately with Pritzker in his statehouse office.