Pat and Bill Dyer of Rockford stood along West State Street on Thursday night waving a makeshift “thin blue line” flag meant to mourn a fallen officer.
The Dyers were among countless spectators who attended a procession ceremony to honor McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Keltner, who was killed in the line of duty Thursday after trying to serve a warrant.
“Your heart just breaks for his wife and children,” Pam Dyer said. “I wish there was more that we could do.”
On Thursday morning, Keltner and the U.S. Marshals Service Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force went to the Extended Stay America hotel in Rockford to serve a warrant.
His team never fired a shot, but Keltner was gunned down and later died. The suspect escaped and headed south toward Interstate 55.
Keltner, who was a Crystal Lake resident and a fugitive investigator with the task force, died at 3:30 p.m. He was 35.
“For those of us in the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, this is bitter news,” McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim said in a statement. “Deputy Keltner was an integral part of our office – someone who had risen quickly to greater responsibilities after he was first sworn in in 2006. He was loved and respected by all his colleagues, and he will be sorely missed.”
At a 6 p.m. news conference in Rockford, Prim said Keltner was a dedicated family man who leaves behind a wife and two young children. Keltner was hardworking and came from a law enforcement family, Prim said.
“He was part of a group of officers that chased the worst of the worst, and unfortunately, sometimes when people are willing to take on these responsibilities, this is an unfortunate end,” Prim said.
Prim also commended the overwhelming support his office received from law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels.
“This is truly a dark day for McHenry County and for law enforcement everywhere,” McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks said after receiving a call from Gov. J.B. Pritzker about the shooting. “Deputy Keltner is a hero who died doing what he loved. Please keep this brave deputy and his family in your prayers, as well as every man and woman in law enforcement who risk their lives every day to protect us.”
Keltner joined the sheriff’s office in June 2006.
“The people of Illinois join the family of the fallen officer in mourning his loss, and with our deepest gratitude for his courageous service,” Pritzker said.
A procession was held at 8 p.m. Thursday, traveling from Mercyhealth’s Javon Bea Hospital – Riverside to the Winnebago County Coroner’s Office.
Katie Gonzales of Rockford said she had been watching coverage of the shooting on the news when her youngest daughter, 8-year-old Audrianna, insisted that the family observe the procession in person. With a candle in hand, Gonzales brought Audrianna, 10-year-old Amilia Durham and 16-year-old Matthew Durham to West State Street.
After the shooting, a standoff with the suspect, Floyd E. Brown, 39, believed to be of Springfield, lasted for hours before Illinois State Police reported that he was in custody about 5 p.m. Thursday.
The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office posted a statement Thursday afternoon: “We regret to inform you that shortly after 3:30 p.m. today Deputy Jacob Keltner has passed away. Deputy Keltner was shot earlier this morning while attempting to serve an arrest warrant with the U.S. Marshals Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force. Deputy Keltner has served the community of McHenry for almost 13 years as a deputy.”
Members of the U.S. Marshals task force – composed of multiple deputies from various departments, including the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office – were trying to serve an arrest warrant at the Extended Stay America, 747 Bell School Road, on Thursday morning when the suspect fired a rifle, authorities said.
Rockford police were called to the hotel about 9:15 a.m. after a report of shots fired.
A woman who Rockford police described as an “acquaintance” of the shooter and Keltner both were shot by the suspect, Rockford Police Lt. Andre Brass said.
The woman suffered injuries that were not life-threatening, police said at the news conference.
Keltner was taken to Javon Bea Hospital – Riverside and underwent surgery before his death, authorities said.
Illinois State Police pursued the suspect on Interstate 55. He was driving more than 100 mph, Illinois State Police said in a Facebook post. The pursuit came to an end in Logan County after officers at the scene struck the suspect’s vehicle on I-55 to try to end the pursuit for the safety of the public, the post said.
Brown then barricaded himself in his vehicle for about six hours before officers took him into custody. He was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening.
Northbound and southbound lanes on I-55 temporarily were closed. Route 66 also temporarily was shut down, police said. The state SWAT team and crisis negotiation officers also responded to the incident, as well as a number of other agencies, police said.
“Anytime a law enforcement officer goes to execute a warrant – regardless of how minor or major it is – there is a large factor of danger involved,” Rockford Police Department Deputy Chief John Pozzi said. “In this case, they approached an unknown, and [it’s] sad to say they came out on the bad end of the operation.”
The Rockford Police Department, Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office and multiple other agencies are investigating.
Bloomington police had investigated Brown in 2018 for a suspected burglary. He also was suspected of crashing a car into three other vehicles, injuring at least two people and fleeing, according to local media reports by the Herald & Review.
Brown was on parole after being convicted for a series of 2011 burglaries in McLean and Macon counties. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison but was released in January 2018, the Herald & Review reported.
Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross said Brown’s charges were upgraded to first-degree murder after Keltner died. Brown faces life in prison if convicted. Federal first-degree murder charges also have been authorized, authorities said, which could allow prosecutors to pursue the death penalty.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.