DeKALB – DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery began to cry sitting in his office Friday afternoon as he asked people to pray for his former colleague, Jacob Keltner, 35, the McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy who was gunned down Thursday serving a warrant.
Keltner was one of several members of the U.S. Marshals Service Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force serving warrants Thursday for the arrest of Floyd E. Brown at the Extended Stay America hotel in Rockford.
“This young man with a wife and two young kids just sacrificed his life trying to take a bad guy off the streets,” Lowery said. “Who else would do that? How many people are willing to step up to that call?”
Lowery served 21 years in the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office before coming to DeKalb and retired there as the undersheriff, responsible for hiring and running operations. So in 2006, he was the one who hired a fresh-out-of-college Keltner as a road deputy. They both shared the same alma mater, Western Illinois University.
“He had this very gentle appearance,” Lowery said sitting in his office Friday at the DeKalb Police Department. “He just looked like a super-nice guy.”
Not long after, Keltner was promoted to detective in McHenry County’s narcotics division.
“He moved up pretty quickly, and that was based on his work ethic,” Lowery said. “The memory I have most is probably that first week he was in the narcotics division, and seeing him at his desk getting that opportunity to do what he really wanted to be doing.”
Keltner was the second McHenry County Sheriff’s deputy hired by Lowery to be killed in the line of duty. Deputy Dwight Maness died in 2015 while conducting a wellness check, Lowery said. He was shot and later died from medical complications.
“As a chief now and undersheriff then, you always feel a responsibility,” Lowery said. “You don’t hire somebody wanting them to be out in a situation or wanting them to die at the hands of an offender. So when I look back, it’s gut-wrenching. And I can’t shake it. I can’t shake it.”
Lowery also worked with McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim, who released a statement Thursday.
“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,” Prim said. “He was loved and respected by all his colleagues, and he will be sorely missed.”
Keltner was assigned a secondary duty with the task force that went to the Rockford hotel Thursday. His team never fired a shot, but Keltner was shot and later died.
Brown, the suspect, escaped and headed south toward Interstate 55 and was arrested after an hours-long standoff with Illinois State Police.
“This offender was not new to the criminal justice system,” Lowery said. “How many times along the way have other officers had to deal with this guy? I also hope that as a justice system, we look at what we can do to change that.”
Lowery said Keltner had been working with DeKalb’s targeted response unit Wednesday, one day before he was killed, to help with the search of a Berkeley man wanted for choking his girlfriend and shooting a woman.
“You realize you as a police officer are many things,” Lowery said. “You’re that social worker on the street, the confidant, you may be that person’s last hope for help. You’re also the warrior when you have to take a bad person into custody, and some of those folks don’t care whether we live or not, it’s a simple as that.”
He asked for the community to pray for Keltner and his family.
“Pray for him,” Lowery said, speaking through tears. “No police officer wants to see it. No leader wants it to happen to one of theirs. Pray for his family.”
Lowery also encouraged people to give to fundraisers being set up in Keltner’s honor. The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page will announce fundraisers set up by the department or Keltner’s family.