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'It hits home because it’s a fellow officer': Thousands attend funeral for fallen deputy

Almost a week after a McHenry County Sheriff’s deputy was fatally shot outside a Rockford hotel, mourners and law enforcement officers from across the region solemnly filed into his funeral Wednesday morning.

McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Keltner was shot in the head March 7 in the parking lot of the Extended Stay America hotel, 747 N. Bell School Road, Rockford. He was pronounced dead a little more than six hours later.

First responders and police officers from across Illinois were in attendance for Keltner’s funeral Wednesday.

Rockford Police Lt. Joel Givens was one of the 45 to 50 Rockford officers who attended Keltner’s funeral. Chief Dan O’Shea and all of the assistant chiefs attended, as well as some lieutenants and sergeants.

“It hits home because it’s a fellow officer,” Givens said.

Keltner was a member of the U.S. Marshals Service Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force. They were at the hotel to serve arrest warrants on a known fugitive of Springfield, who is accused of shooting through the door, jumping out the window and shooting Keltner in the parking lot before fleeing.

Kildeer Police patrol officer Doug Beres said that although he doesn’t know Keltner or his family, he felt compelled to attend his fellow officer’s funeral.

“It’s to show support for the family and all the law enforcement officers here,” Beres said. “I have been in law enforcement for over 30 years. Any first responders are taking their lives on the line, but we’re here for a purpose. The purpose is to serve the public.”

Mourners packed the main gym at Woodstock North High School, with some overflowing into an auxiliary gym. Woodstock School District 200 spokesman Kevin Lyons said the main gym’s capacity is about 3,000 people.

Downers Grove police officer Brian Mitera said he drove about 1½ hours to attend Keltner’s funeral, even though he didn’t know him.

“It’s important to me ... so the officers who have given the ultimate sacrifice are remembered as the heroes they are,” he said.

Nationwide, Keltner’s death on March 7 marked the 24th law enforcement fatality in the line of duty this year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. By the same time last year, 30 law enforcement officers had died in the line of duty nationwide.

Mitera had a message for Keltner’s wife, Becki, and two sons, Caleb and Carson: “Thank you. Thank you for allowing him to protect and serve and keep the citizens safe.”

Wearing a Harley-Davidson patch on his black motorcycle jacket, McHenry Township Clerk Dan Aylward, a member of the Warriors’ Watch Riders, expressed his sympathy for Keltner’s family, saying his own father was a Chicago police officer, his son-in-law was a police officer in North Carolina and other relatives were in law enforcement.

“There is no closure. That’s something they’re never going to get over,” Aylward said. “You just get up in the morning and splash water on your face and face another day and go on with it.”

He said he’s praying for Keltner’s family.

“I wish there was something I could do,” Aylward said. “Unfortunately there isn’t. Just prayer and knowing that some day you’ll see him again.”

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