When Michele Robey's former friends in Elgin heard she was shot and killed by Chicago police, they were shocked.
They remembered her as a caring person dedicated to helping others. She received an Elgin Image Award in 2008, an honor reserved for people who make exceptional contributions to the city.
Chicago police said Robey lunged at officers with a knife before she was hit with a Taser and shot Feb. 10, but that didn't jibe with the Michele Robey she knew, said Gail Cohen of Elgin.
"I couldn't believe it when I saw it on the news," she said.
"She always had a heart for serving, and for others," said another friend, Renee Edsall of Elgin.
A normal life
Robey, 55, was shot by officers at a bus stop near a North Side CVS after store employees called police to say she had threatened them.
It was the tragic end to seven difficult years that began when Robey started to show signs of late-onset mental illness, said her sister Anastasia "Stacey" Robey of Chicago. Her most recent diagnosis was "bipolar with schizoaffective disorder," her sister said.
"When she was on her medication and stabilized, it would be like she would be her normal, old self. But from time to time she would not take her meds," Stacey Robey said. "(Her death) has not been easy. It has been a shock beyond anything you could ever imagine."
Michele Robey lived in Elgin, where she raised her now 20-year-old son, for nearly a decade until 2011 or 2012, her sister said.
Recently, she'd been talking about moving back to Elgin, she said. "She loved it there. She really did."
Michele Robey's life ran a normal course for a long time. She grew up in a tightknit Chicago family, earned an undergraduate degree from City Colleges of Chicago and a master's degree in psychology from National Louis University in 2009, Stacey Robey said.
She worked as a regional coordinator at Hektoen Institute of Medicine in Chicago to foster rapid HIV testing for pregnant women in hospitals, and she once presented at a conference in South Africa.
"She had a great sense of humor. She was bright, compassionate, loving," Stacey Robey said. "She was a great humanitarian."
Her Elgin friends agreed, describing her as lively and quirky, in a good way.
"She was very generous and always had big ideas," said Cohen, Elgin's human resources director, who nominated her for the city award. "She wanted to solve world hunger."
Robey bought and did much of the rehab work herself on three homes, including one on Franklin Avenue she wanted to turn into a space for the homeless, Cohen said. She also was active at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Elgin, and she volunteered for soup kitchens and homeless shelters, Edsall said.
Robey's former boss at Hektoen, Mardge Cohen, said she was energetic and mission-driven, and felt a duty to take care of people.
"She would think of very creative ways to engage hospital staff to make sure the program would work," Mardge Cohen said. "And she was very, very attentive to patients' needs."
Things started to change after Robey earned her master's degree and then lost her job at Hektoen Institute when grant funding ran out in 2010, Stacey Robey said.
She lived off savings while focusing on her home rehab work in Elgin, but "signs of things not being right with her" started to manifest, her sister said. She was hospitalized in Elgin the first time around 2011, the first of "many" hospitalizations, Stacey Robey said.
The last time Edsall saw her was around 2011, when Robey, almost frantic, called her asking for immediate help in delivering pork chops she had cooked for the homeless. Edsall did so, and then she never heard from her again.
"Afterward I called numerous times to make sure it all went OK," Edsall said. "That's the last time I talked to her."
Robey moved to Chicago, where she briefly worked part-time at a women's shelter, her sister said. She filed for bankruptcy, lost her Elgin homes, and went on disability.
Last year, she was charged in Chicago with possession of a controlled substance and retail theft. She was sentenced to drug school and all charges were later dismissed.
Stacey Robey said she last saw her sister 12 days before the Feb. 10 shooting. "She was not in good shape," she said.
She declined to comment further, saying the family plans to file a lawsuit against the city of Chicago. She did say she believes her sister was having a psychotic break that made her paranoid and afraid on the day she was killed.
Jose Estrada, Chicago police public information officer, declined to comment, citing the potential litigation. The shooting is under investigation by Chicago's Independent Police Review Authority, and the Cook County medical examiner hasn't finalized the case yet, officials said.
Michele Robey's family still is reeling, as are those who knew her during better days in Elgin. "It's still hard to believe," Gail Cohen said.
"She was an amazing human being," Stacey Robey said. "Family members always say that, but she really was."