Hundreds of mourners, fellow officers pay respects to trooper killed on I-294
Hundreds of police officers and sheriff's deputies from throughout Illinois and the U.S. filed silently by the flag-draped coffin of Illinois State Trooper Christopher Lambert during visitation services Thursday at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington.
During the somber procession, the only sound in the chapel was the muffled sound of marching feet as the officers paid their respects to Lambert, a five-year veteran of Illinois State Police District 15 who was struck and killed by a vehicle Saturday after he stopped to assist people involved in a three-car crash on I-294 near Willow Road.
Lambert, 34, was off duty and on his way home to Highland Park at the time.
The tribute by police officers, some from as far as New York, North Carolina, Mississippi and Utah, was part of a six-hour service that drew scores of mourners to console Lambert's wife, Halley, their 1-year-old daughter and other family members.
Lambert's funeral begins at 10 a.m. Friday at the church.
An Illinois State Police honor guard stood by Lambert's casket, which was topped with the trooper's hat and flanked by American, Illinois and Illinois State Police flags. A framed portrait of a grinning, uniformed Lambert hung alongside his uniform, which also was framed.
Photographs of the trooper, his wife and their daughter, along with pictures of family members, friends and fellow officers, played on a large screen. There was Lambert and Halley, arm-in-arm; the laughing toddler riding on her father's shoulders; Lambert snoozing with a black and white dog and laughing with fellow troopers.
Soraina Mazzarisi of Hoffman Estates doesn't know Lambert or his family but wanted to pay her respects and acknowledge his service.
"I was really touched," she said. "He was a good man with his whole life ahead of him. ... You could tell he was a loving man."
Friends remembered Lambert as a devoted family man and a dedicated public servant who earned praise for his dedication and service from state police Director Leo Schmitz.
The mourners Thursday included a large group of trainees from the Cook County sheriff's office. Gov. J.B. Pritzker also attended the visitation, which was accompanied by music from a pianist, violinist and harpist, who played a lilting version of "O Mio Babbino Caro," from Giacomo Puccini's opera "Gianni Schicchi." The poignant song is about a young woman telling her father she intends to marry.
Pritzker hugged Lambert's wife and stroked the hair of her daughter, who clutched a gray, floppy-eared stuffed bunny.
In a prepared statement, Lambert's family members said the Dayton, Ohio, native and U.S. Army veteran "left the world in the way in which he lived: putting the well-being and happiness of those around him before his own."
Family members thanked law enforcement officers and thousands of people who expressed love and concern for the fallen officer and his family in the statement.
Such an outpouring of concern from fellow officers is common, said Hawthorn Woods police Sgt. Ed Amijo. It's a reflection of the family of first-responders to which they all belong, he said.
"The people who need it most are the family members of the loved one. When they see hundreds of people (paying their respects), it helps them heal," he said.
Law enforcement is an organization like any other, said South Barrington police officer Alex Cruz.
"And organizations are more successful when they communicate with and support each other," he said.
In lieu of flowers, donations may made to the Lambert family by visiting the Illinois State Police Heritage Foundation website at www.isphf.org/donations or via mail to Illinois State Police Heritage Foundation, P.O. Box 8168, Springfield, IL 62791.