'There was simply none better than Jake': Fallen McHenry County deputy remembered as a hero
To the law enforcement officers who knew him best, there was no better partner, police officer or fugitive investigator than Jacob Keltner.
The fallen McHenry County sheriff's deputy was courageous, hardworking and committed to upholding the Oath of Honor, his colleagues said during a funeral service Wednesday. Known for his quick wit and distinctive laugh, Keltner was respected by officers and offenders alike, they said, and he had a knack for forming strong relationships with everyone who worked with him.
Keltner, 35, was fatally shot last week outside a Rockford hotel while trying to serve an arrest warrant as part of a U.S. Marshals team. Loved ones remembered him Wednesday as a devoted family man and a brother in blue -- and as a hero, both in life and death.
"All our lives, whether we like it or not, have a ripple effect on the lives around us," McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim said. "I submit to you that Jake Keltner created, over his too-short span of life, not just a ripple but a mighty wave of goodness and light, and there is nothing wasted about that. It is, in fact, all we can hope to achieve in this world."
Hundreds of family, friends and law enforcement officers from throughout the region and beyond filled Woodstock North High School to pay their respects. The service was followed by a procession of law enforcement and emergency vehicles to DeFiore Funeral Home in Huntley, where Keltner's body will be cremated.
Keltner, of Crystal Lake, always knew he wanted to be a soldier or a police officer, said the Rev. Kendall Koenig, a senior pastor with Light of Christ Lutheran Church in Algonquin. After a short stint in Army Basic Training camp, he attended Western Illinois University, where he received a degree in Spanish and a minor in law enforcement and justice administration. It was in college where he met his wife, Becki.
Keltner joined the McHenry County sheriff's office in 2006 after starting in a civilian position with the DuPage County sheriff's office, where his brother works and from where his father retired. He served as a detective and worked in narcotics, and he was assigned to the U.S. Marshals Service's Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force for the last five years.
Keltner understood the dangers of his work, yet his work ethic and passion for arresting violent offenders never faltered, said Anthony Penna and Michael Urgo, who served alongside Keltner in McHenry County and on the task force. He touched the lives of everyone he met, they said as they shared stories of Keltner's tenacity, brilliance and sense of humor.
"We trusted Jake with our lives, and we would've given our lives for him," Penna said as he fought tears. "There was simply none better than Jake."
Still, there was nothing Keltner loved more than his family, Koenig said. He was a dedicated father to two young boys, with whom he enjoyed playing Mario Kart, watching movies and, as of recently, making zip lines in their basement. And his smile was never as big as when he was with his wife.
"To be in this line of work, as so many of you know, you have to develop a tough shell, as you often have to see and deal with people at their worst, at their most broken, when they have given their evil impulses free rein," Koenig said, something Keltner's father-in-law feared would affect his family. "Those concerns quickly melted away because when he walked in the door at home, he did his best to hang his shell on the coat rack. He would then engage with his boys and with (Becki) with his tender, loving heart."
Keltner is also survived by two brothers and his parents, Howard and Helen Keltner.
To friends and loved ones, Koenig said, Keltner wore several other hats, as well. He was an older brother, a matchmaker, a baby whisperer, an avid Cubs fan. He enjoyed working out, and he was always challenging others to try new things.
"We are not heroes because of how we die," Koenig said. "We are heroes because of how we live, and Jake lived it."