Thousands of law enforcement officials, first responders and family members filled Woodstock North High School on Wednesday morning as the funeral for fallen McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Keltner took place.
Keltner, 35, of Crystal Lake, was shot and killed March 7, while serving a warrant on a known fugitive at a Rockford hotel. He was a member of the U.S. Marshals Service Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force, which is composed of multiple deputies from various departments across the region.
It was a position he had vied for as he worked his way up the ladder in his career, McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim said during the service Wednesday.
“As a patrol deputy, he was a leader in traffic enforcement and DUI arrests,” Prim said. “As a detective, he moved rapidly upward through difficult, high-profile assignments, finally earning himself a spot on the apprehension team.”
A team of law enforcement officers carried an American flag-draped casket containing the fallen deputy as the funeral began. Pictures of Keltner with his wife, Becki Keltner, and their two young boys, Caleb and Carson, were displayed at the front of the gym.
First responders and police officers from across Illinois were in attendance, including officers from McHenry, Lake, Boone, Cook and DuPage county sheriff’s offices; Loves Park, Rockford, Belvidere, Carol Stream, Beloit, Cary, Schiller Park police departments; and the Illinois State Police, among others.
The Rev. Kendall Koenig, a senior pastor with Light of Christ Lutheran Church in Algonquin, led the ceremony. He shed light on Keltner’s life beyond the badge. Prim and two of Keltner’s partners on the task force also spoke at the ceremony.
Keltner’s task force colleagues Mike Urgo and Tony Penna praised his work ethic, determination, wit and bravery.
Urgo remembered “dark, cold mornings” in back alleys and afternoons with “no end in sight” while out on assignment with Keltner, he said. Keltner was assigned to the force as his partner in 2014, he said.
The team underwent countless hours of training, which included undergoing physical fitness tests, firearm and medical equipment training and running combat and emergency drills.
“We were prepared for what could have happened,” Urgo said. “I wish that day didn’t happen. I am deeply saddened by the tragedy. We are humbled to stand before you on this day that shouldn’t have happened.”
Penna fought tears as he spoke to the crowd and expressed his love for the Keltner family.
“We have seen some stuff together,” he said of his work on the task force with Keltner. “I can tell you there was no better fugitive investigator or police officer better than Jake.”
Keltner had the “most recognizable,” gregarious belly laugh that Penna has ever heard, he said.
“We will forever cherish his friendship and memory,” Penna said. “This is a tragic and devastating day.”
Penna told Keltner’s wife to trust in “the Lord, your family and the ‘thin blue line.’”
Keltner was a Western Illinois University graduate who began working with the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office in 2006.
Life is a gift. Keltner’s was cut short, but not wasted, Prim said.
“Our lives, whether we like it or not, have a ripple effect on the lives of those around us,” Prim said. “Jake Keltner created – in the span of his too-short life – not just a ripple, but a wave of goodness and light. ... That is all we can hope to achieve.”
Koenig delivered the message after remembrances had concluded.
“This is the last place any of us want to be today,” he said. “There are no words that can quickly heal our broken hearts. There is no music that can fully soothe our hurting spirits. There are no acts of kindness that can instantly make this better.”
But by those actions, healing will begin to take place, he said.
Already recognized as a fierce and courageous law enforcement officer, Koenig shed light on who Keltner was as a person.
“We remember Jake in a wider sense,” he said. “As husband and son, a father and brother, a friend and neighbor.”
Keltner was the oldest of three brothers, and his father also was in law enforcement. Keltner wanted to become either a solider or police officer since he was young. His bravery was cultivated, the pastor said.
He was an artist who drew his own tattoos, he challenged the people around him to try new things and was a “baby whisperer” who could calm crying infants and rowdy toddlers like no one else, Koenig said.
“In this line of work you have to develop a tough shell,” Koenig said. “But when he got home, he did his best to hang that shell on the coat rack and engage with the boys and Becki with a tender heart.”
As recently as the week of his death, he had built zip lines for his sons in the basement and had their toys “zipping all around” like Hot Wheels tracks in the air.
The pastor encouraged Keltner’s sons to ask for help in the future and remember that their father loved them.
“We aren’t heroes because of how we die,” he said. “We are heroes because of how we live. Jake lived it.”
The service sparked recognition from across the state. A procession from the high school to the funeral home consisted of law enforcement vehicles from as far north as Green Bay, Wisconsin, as far east as Muncie, Indiana, as far west as Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and as far south as Champaign and Vermilion counties and the southern Illinois town of Benton.
Keltner was recognized in Springfield via an honorary House resolution. The resolution was filed by state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, and co-sponsored by Reps. Steve Reick, Allen Skillicorn, Tom Weber and John Cabello.
Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, offered a moment of silence on the Senate floor Wednesday out of respect for Keltner.
“Today, may we join his family and friends in mourning his loss and may we always remember Deputy Keltner for his courageous service,” McConchie said. “And as his wife, Becki, encouraged us in her letter, let us not remember him as a statistic, but rather, let’s remember him as a great man who sacrificed his life to protect others.”