Officer's shooting shatters sense of safety in Fox Lake
This holiday weekend, small suburb locks down
Just as summer fun dissolves into fall on the Chain O' Lakes, the helicopters, SWAT teams, K-9 units, armies of police officers and throngs of news reporters will fade from Fox Lake. On Monday, the tight-knit community will lay to rest its friend and devoted police officer, Lt. Charles Joseph "G.I. Joe" Gliniewicz.
But the gunshot that killed Gliniewicz still rips through Fox Lake.
"Did it really happen?" Mayor Donny Schmit asked the crowd at a huge public vigil attended by Gliniewicz's widow and the couple's four sons. "I had a hole in my heart like the rest of the community did."
A week ago, Fox Lake might have been known as a place where boats could outnumber residents on summer weekends. Many families, including the mayor's, have lived in the area for generations. You don't need to see the signs noting that lakeside parking costs $1.50 a day to know that you aren't in Chicago. The sign in front of the police department alerts folks to a pasta dinner, a 5K walk and the Grandparents Day observation at Paradise Park. Locals know each other. Waiting to turn left in the middle of downtown, a guy driving an El Camino from a generation ago waves to a man in a pickup truck with a U.S. flag flying from the tailgate. A "No fishing from bridge" sign is about as unfriendly as it gets.
Then Tuesday morning happened.
Known for his work mentoring kids interested in police careers, his smile at pancake breakfasts, and for handing out Popsicles to kids on Halloween, Lt. Gliniewicz radioed in to say that he was going to check out some suspicious activity involving two white males and one black male. Fourteen minutes later, his friends and fellow officers found him shot to death in a wooded area just 50 yards from his police vehicle. The manhunt, with helicopters, dogs and hundreds of officers from dozens of law enforcement agencies, couldn't find the suspects.
"Life has changed," says Bob Nordmeyer, owner of Ben Watts Marina, which has been part of Fox Lake since 1954. For the first time since he got rid of his gun a couple decades ago, Nordmeyer says he brought a handgun into his home. He heard a noise that night, took his flashlight and gun into his backyard and didn't see anything out of the ordinary. But in the wake of the murder, nothing seems normal.
"We had a Hoffman Estates cop on our street," says resident Noreen Michael, 48, who, as does seemingly everyone in town, notes that Gliniewicz was a good friend. "I locked my doors for the first time in 15 years. Fox Lake does seem to be getting a little more dangerous, but so's the world."
The day after the slaying, Nordmeyer was riding his Harley-Davidson to his home on Elm Street, when he thought he heard gunshots.
"It scared the hell out of me," Nordmeyer says, noting it also alarmed a woman walking her dog. "She took off running down the road."
Hopping into a car driven by a neighbor and fishing buddy, Nordmeyer hopped out a few blocks later, where he knew SWAT team members were gathered. A little girl bringing the officers cold water high-tailed it out of there with her mother when Nordmeyer broke the news about the gunshots.
"We gave the SWAT team a ride. Before we got there, there were five of them (uniformed officers) at the corner," Nordmeyer says, impressed by the quick response. Calling each other by first names because Nordmeyer knows them as friends, the officers tell him the "gunshots" turned out to be a couple of kids setting off fireworks.
"Normally, life wouldn't be like that," says Nordmeyer, whose T-shirt noting that fishing includes "cussing, swatting, sweating and drinking" is far more leisurely than he's feeling these days. "Everybody in my neighborhood spent all night with their lights on. Nobody was outside cooking out. Nobody was cutting grass. Everybody was locked up tighter than a drum."
Palatine experienced that angst after the 1993 murder of seven people at a Brown's Chicken restaurant. The initial police work didn't result in arrests, and the slayings returned to the limelight on every anniversary.
"In my experience it will take years, maybe decades, for a town like Fox Lake to recover from something like this," says Schaumburg Police Chief James E. Lamkin, whose force lent officers to the massive manhunt in pursuit of Gliniewicz's killers. "It just cuts into everything."
Police officers don't have the luxury of deciding which calls to answer, adds Lamkin, who says this case is a sad reminder that any police call can turn deadly. Arrests, convictions and the triumph of justice still won't be able to make Fox Lake whole.
"Even after that, it's just something that hangs over everything," Lamkin says.
Singing along with the Grant Community High School choir to "Amazing Grace" at the vigil for the slain officer, Fox Lake resident Donald Jansky knows what it is like to lose a loved one in the line of duty, and not having the closure of being able to blame it on some evil person.
"I don't know if it makes is any easier or any worse, but it was hard for me to handle," says Jansky, 65, whose son, Army Capt. Benjamin Donald Jansky, was killed on July 27, 2005, in Iraq when his Humvee was hit by a larger military vehicle just south of Baghdad. Married with two young daughters, the 28-year-old Jansky, a 1994 graduate of Antioch High School with a degree from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, had planned to be an elementary schoolteacher.
"I usually attend any funerals of service people in the area. I really appreciated the people who came to honor my son," the father says, noting that Gliniewicz's murder leaves "a hole" in Fox Lake.
"It's not CSI and you're done in an hour," Jansky says, acknowledging fears that the killing might remain unsolved for days, weeks, even years.
"I hope it doesn't. I really pray. His family doesn't deserve to wait that long," says Kathie Buster, a hostess at Dino's Den in Fox Lake. The Antioch woman used to live in Buffalo Grove, and remembers how those Brown's Chicken murders became synonymous with Palatine.
"And now, we're known for a bad thing," says Jacob Andersen, 13, as he hangs streamers in memory of Gliniewicz with his mom Liz Andersen, aunt Julie Paladine, and Paladine's 10-year-old twin sons, Jack and Joe.
"It sure makes you not want to let your kids go outside. And triple-check that your doors are locked," says Liz Andersen, 48, who teaches social studies at Stanton Middle School in Fox Lake. She remembers when Gliniewicz spoke at Career Day in her classroom. Now she's forced to wonder if one of her former students could be involved in his murder.
"I'm just hoping someone comes forward," says Paladine, 45, who grew up in Fox Lake. "I really do think they are going to get caught."
The Brown's Chicken murders went unsolved for nine years until a former girlfriend of one of the gunmen told police who did it. DNA evidence helped convict the pair and send them to prison for life.
"It affected everyone that's ever lived in Palatine, everyone who has worked in Palatine, everyone who ever knew anyone in Palatine," then-Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins said after that case was solved.
Vigil participants Noreen Michael and her friend Ted Williams are confident that police will solve their friend's murder.
"I don't think it's going to take them long," Michael says, noting that it is harder to keep a secret in today's world, where security cameras abound and information can be shared instantly through social media.
Anyone with tips is asked to visit fbi.gov/foxlake or 1-800 CALL FBI.
"There's three people. Somebody's going to talk," predicts Williams, 51, a former Fox Lake resident who came from his home in Elgin to attend the vigil.
"I'm optimistic," says George Filenko, commander of the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force leading the investigation, who adds that officials are reviewing hundreds of tips and poring over videos from businesses, roadways and homes near the slaying. "We have a mission and we're focused, and we're going to keep going until we solve this case."
No one in Fox Lake doubts that desire, no matter how long it might take.
"Police officers," Williams says, "have a really good memory."