Remembering Deputy Jake Keltner
March 2019 brought a new aspect of the unending grief that follows losing your officer - finding your way through the grief of losing the next. Nothing prepares you for this experience as a whole, and nothing can prepare you for when those waves will knock you down and make it hard to catch your breath.
Next Saturday, March 7, 2020, will mark the one year anniversary of the end of watch of Deputy Jacob Keltner of the McHenry County Sheriff's Office. I will never forget the text I got from a friend that morning, a friend who knew I needed to hear it from someone I know before seeing social media or the news hit me like a freight train. That immediate pain and shortness of breath is a feeling you can't control - it's as though someone just punched you in the gut - a literal physical pain in your stomach and in your heart.
March 7, 2019. Text message alert. An officer had been shot in Rockford. State Street. He's still hanging on. Pray. Pray Hard.
And I did.
I felt sick, and I prayed so hard. If I can't do anything else, I'll pray. I kept checking. I kept praying...
...It isn't a Rockford officer, he was here from another department serving a warrant.
It isn't looking good...they're waiting for his family...
...But nothing official. All official news says he might be OK - no news means there's hope. Right?
Hope. Pray. This cannot happen again. This cannot happen HERE again. So soon. It's too soon. There were 16 years between Detective Rice and Officer Cox. 16 years.
It's only been 16 months. Only 16 months...
Within a couple of hours of leaving work, the official news came. Deputy Jake Keltner. McHenry County Sheriff's Office. There would be a procession leaving Javon Bea hospital in the coming hours.
My God. It's all too familiar. Can I physically do this? Can my heart handle this?
The answer was a resounding yes, yes you can do this. It's like someone was boldly saying to me (and maybe they were): YOU WILL DO THIS. YOU MUST DO THIS. You haven't forgotten a second of what it feels like to be on their end. It's your turn to hold that line for them and pay forward what so many did for you. The only other option was to recluse - turn off all news, avoid reading texts and social media, don't turn on the TV. But, I knew the people that couldn't recluse - Rockford Police Department Officers and Winnebago County Sheriff's Deputies, our guys, along with this deputy's department and family - they deserved to have every last person out on that route who could be there. They deserved to have every possible prayer and thought that could be mustered up across this nation. In that moment, for me, sinking back and avoiding until I had more time to process wasn't the option that was going to work.
Officer Cox's procession from the Public Safety Building in Rockford, IL
And so, I stood outside my neighborhood along the State Street portion of the procession route. A nearly identical route along which I rode in the back of a car just 16 months prior, a few cars behind the coach that carried my cousin. I remembered then, and still do today, looking out at all the people who stood along that route in November 2017. I told my brother in that moment, "Look at this. This is why you do this job. This is why you wear that badge. These are the people you do this for." These were the people Jaimie gave everything for. And what quickly cemented into my memory is that they were people of all colors, sizes, ages, social classes, occupations.
Now these were the same people Jake gave everything for. Less than two miles down the road, 16 months later, we lost another. He died in our city, on our streets, protecting us. It does not matter that he was not a Rockford officer. He was an LEO. In my mind, he will always be one of ours; they are all ours.
Deputy Keltner's Procession to the Public Safety Building in Rockford, IL
I put on my hat, boots, gloves, Jaimie sweatshirt, grabbed my blue line flag off the front of my house, and met my neighbors and my parents at the location we had chosen to stand out and pay honor to this deputy, whose family now held far too similar a story to ours. I didn't realize exactly how much the day had weighed on me until my mom sent me a picture I didn't realize she had taken. I truly can't believe I'm going to
share this photo on a public forum - but I need you to understand how hard this hits. It hits everyone - but when you watch your own nightmare unfold in front of you again, this time for someone else, it's a wave of grief so powerful I can't describe it. I had no idea who this family was, I don't know if I'd even seen a photo of Deputy Keltner at that point, but I knew I wanted to take it all away for them, every second of this pain - I would have taken it on myself if I could have; I've already done it. I'm still doing it. I've ridden this exact route. You don't deserve to have to ride it, too. No one deserves this. It made me stop and think, again, how Jaimie's death must have affected the Rice family. I imagine it was much the same, even with 16 years in between. I'm no longer of the mindset that time heals all wounds. Time may cushion, but it doesn't always heal.
The next night, March 8, 2019, Lauri and met a couple of off-duty officers to stand on the Irene Road I-90 overpass to pay tribute again to this man and his family as he was taken back to his hometown. I wasn't sure I could do it again, but I had made it through the night before, and he deserved as much again. I needed to take this on to represent my family, to give back.
Our family attended Jake's visitation a few nights later, watching our IL C.O.P.S. family and our own RPD officers once again stand in support of another family who were nothing less than broken. Shattered.
Please be sure to keep Becki Keltner, her boys, friends, other family members and his co-workers in your thoughts and prayers this week as they embark on their first anniversary of losing their person - husband, daddy, son, brother, friend... And please remember this is a grief that never ends for the families. We will work the rest of our lives to ensure our heroes are not forgotten while supporting their comrades who continue to hold the line. When grief is blue, it affects, maybe even changes, your entire soul and being.
Thank you for your service and sacrifice Deputy Jacob Keltner. You will always be remembered. We will never forget. #1879
Leave a message of remembrance here.
-Andrea, BLUE 815 Chair