Slain cop's wife to hundreds at vigil: 'My world got a little bit smaller'

An outpouring of support for the family of fallen Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz was in full force Wednesday as a community gathered with broken hearts on the shore of Nippersink Lake.

A crowd well in excess of 1,000 packed the beach and hillsides at Lakefront Park for the candlelight vigil. The well-wishers filled every space in sight, as well as dozens of boats moored offshore, listening to the amplified tributes.

And for the first time since the shooting, Gliniewicz's widow, Mel, broke her silence, saying the presence of everyone was truly appreciated.

An hour before the scheduled start, scores of well-wishers, including Scouts and high school students, friends and others carrying signs and flags made their way down Nippersink Boulevard to the water. Many were residents or families who didn't know Gliniewicz but knew of him. And that was enough.

“I think it's a good opportunity for the kids to see how people can come together,” said Delia Welch of Island Lake. She brought her 15-year-old daughter, Samantha, and 13-year-old son, Xander. “We should be there for each other,” Welch said.

Authorities extended the search area Wednesday from the original 2-square-mile area and 100 investigators remained on the case. Not long before the vigil, about 10 federal and county officers raided a home on Hickory Avenue but left the scene without anyone in cuffs. The three men being sought for shooting Gliniewicz to death Tuesday morning remain at large.

More than 100 officers of all stripes and departments stood at attention and saluted as the sport utility vehicle carrying the family — Gliniewicz's widow and four sons — arrived at the venue. Recorded music, including an instrumental version of the Beatles' “All You Need is Love,” played as the shaken and sobbing family members made their way to a seating area in front of a stage on the beach framed by a huge American flag.

Even small children seemed to be still in the dense heat as several speakers hailed the fallen officer as an energetic and consistently upbeat cop whose passions were his family, the job and helping youth through the Fox Lake Explorer program, which he shepherded for most of his 30-plus years on the force.

Family friend Jeff Brooks, who began the vigil and made the introductions, summarized what many may have been thinking.

“It's about being part of the community,” Brooks said. “Joe has taught us one thing: You can still be a perfect human being and be taken away too soon.”

Mel Gliniewicz and her sons took the stage to thunderous and sustained applause, hoots and screams. Arms around each other, the family held fast for few moments as a thank-you to all. During a marriage of more than 26 years, “He was my rock as much as I was his rock,” his widow said.

“My world got a little bit smaller with his passing and he will truly be missed,” she said. None of her sons spoke.

“Like many in our town, I couldn't sleep last night,” Mayor Donny Schmit told the crowd. “Did it really happen? I had a hole in my heart like the rest of the community did.”

Schmit said Gliniewicz's focus was on helping youths and he wanted to make sure the Explorer program carried on when he retired at the end of the month. Schmit said the community has suffered “a larger than life” loss.

Schmit echoed the sentiments of many in a town that is still shaken and wary that something of this nature happened where they live.

“Everybody wanted to do something, but what do you do?” he asked.

At the end of the tributes, the family lit the first candles and blue balloons were released.

“I didn't think it was real when I woke up” Tuesday, said Blythe Lever, who lives up the street from the park. She said she was an Explorer for a while and knew Gliniewicz for 18 years. “My sister and I kept saying, 'No.'”

Many who attended the vigil didn't know Gliniewicz but wanted to show support.

“We're here for the community and the family,” said Carol Borys, who attended with her husband, Bruce, daughters Caylee and Makenzie, and niece Hailey Allen. All were dressed in blue. “It always happens to the better ones.”

Grant Community High School choir teacher and lifelong resident Krista Koskey said what happened in her small community is unbelievable.

“It really is surreal,” Koskey said. “Obviously, we're still on edge and we will be for a long time. To know these people are still out there is unsettling.”

Donations can be made to the Lt. Joe Gliniewicz Memorial Fund at any BMO Harris Bank. If preferred, checks can be mailed to the Lake Zurich Police Department c/o Missy Gaffney, 200 Mohawk Trail, Lake Zurich. Gaffney is the authorized representative of the family.

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  The family of slain Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz stand on stage at Lakefront Park in Fox Lake Wednesday evening during a community service. Gliniewicz was shot dead Tuesday morning as he pursued three suspects, who remain on the loose. John Starks/
  The family of slain Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz stand on stage at Lakefront Park in Fox Lake Wednesday evening during a community service. Gliniewicz was shot dead Tuesday morning as he pursued three suspects, who remain on the loose. John Starks/
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