'He came to work every day to make a difference': Trooper remembered as hero
Illinois State Police Trooper Christopher Lambert was remembered at his funeral Friday as a hero who believed in helping others, a family man, and someone who could have fun with colleagues even when he worked on a special drug-enforcement unit in Lake County.
Scores of state troopers and law enforcement personnel from across Illinois and the United States attended Lambert's Catholic funeral Mass at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, state police Director Leo Schmitz and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul were among state officials who attended.
Lambert, a five-year veteran of Illinois State Police District 15, was struck and killed by a vehicle on a snowy late afternoon Jan. 12 after he stopped to assist people involved in a three-car crash on I-294 near Willow Road. The 34-year-old trooper was off duty and on his way home to Highland Park.
Pritzker offered what he said might be "inadequate" words of comfort to Lambert's widow, Halley, who held the couple's 1-year-old daughter Delaney. Pritzker spoke toward the end of the Mass and drew on his experience of being 7 years old when his father died.
"There will come a day when the memory of Chris will be like a cool breeze inside, comforting and gentle," Pritzker said. "There will be a moment sometime in the future when you think of him and laugh at an old joke you shared and smile at the thought of his smile."
Libertyville police Officer Brandon Bernabei became close to Lambert when they were partners for most of last year while both men were assigned to the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group, an elite regional unit that works on drug-related cases.
Bernabei remembered how the man nicknamed "Lam Lam" praised his wife when they'd discuss "guy stuff" and their spouses on the job and how he used FaceTime on his mobile device to connect with his daughter between assignments.
He said Lambert, who since had returned to state police patrol, enjoyed being part of practical jokes on MEG colleagues and found humor in a serious job.
"The time we needed volunteers to dress up in camouflage and face paint to go sit in the woods for surveillance on a house in 95-degree weather, I've never seen someone so excited to sweat profusely in a cloud of mosquitoes, but there was Lam Lam," said Bernabei, adding a light moment in Willow Creek's Lakeside Auditorium, where mourners periodically could be heard crying softy.
Schmitz said he knew Lambert and gave him high praise as a "trooper's trooper" at District 15, which is headquartered in Downers Grove and responsible for patrolling all 294 miles of interstate tollways in 12 counties in northern Illinois. He said Lambert was a hero in wanting to protect others in danger on I-294 after his work day had ended.
Lambert's death in the course of his heroic actions means his name will be added to an Illinois State Police memorial in Springfield and at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., Schmitz said.
"He came to work every day to make a difference," Schmitz said. "And he did."
In a statement, Lambert's family 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."
Bernabei was emotional when he gave thanks for becoming Lambert's friend.
"How could someone have such an impact on our lives after having only worked with them for less than a year?" Bernabei asked. "The answer is simple. We were working with an angel. Chris simply didn't have his wings yet. Well, Chris, you have your wings now. Watch over all of us, please. We will never forget you. You will always be our brother."
Dogs from Northbrook-based Lutheran Church Charities' K-9 Police Ministry were in a lobby for mourners who wished to pet them for comfort. Members of the Chicago police Bagpipes and Drums of the Emerald Society performed the recessional after Mass.
Monsignor Kenneth Velo, a priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago who co-celebrated the Mass, read a letter from Cardinal Blase Cupich, who expressed regret he could not attend and said that he wanted Lambert's family to know he was with them and sharing their grief.
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.