“Send everybody you possibly can,” radioed in the first cop on the scene. “Officer is down.”
Gliniewicz didn’t make it, but authorities pulled out the big guns to try and capture his killers. Fox Lake shuttered its schools. SWAT teams with Humvees stormed previously quiet neighborhoods. More than 400 officers, including federal agents, K-9 units and helicopters, launched a massive manhunt for the three suspects.
The next day, Fox Lake residents held a vigil to honor the fallen police officer. Hundreds lined the small town’s main street with flags and homemade signs praising Gliniewicz for giving his life to protect them. A phalanx of uniformed officers carried his coffin into a high school packed with mourners.
“When we were growing up, we all knew Joe was a hero,” said his brother, firefighter Michael Gliniewicz, choking back tears. “But now the nation knows he was a hero.”
The cop-killing and its emotional aftermath quickly became national news as Gliniewicz’s death was drawn into a larger debate over attacks on police.
“Every cop in America is looking over their shoulder right now,” said Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn a few days later during a discussion of Gliniewicz’s death on “Fox and Friends.”
Two weeks later, however, the iconic Illinois cop-killing is no longer a clear-cut case of an officer cut down in the line of duty.
Instead, it’s a mystery in which Gliniewicz, himself, may be implicated.
On Tuesday, local media reported that investigators are now weighing the possibility that Gliniewicz was not murdered, but rather killed himself in an elaborately staged suicide.
Citing multiple unnamed individuals, the Chicago Tribune reported that detectives are now determining whether Gliniewicz shot himself. Fox News reported similar information, citing “a source who is a member of the task force” investigating the killing.
Lake County Sheriff’s Office Det. Christopher Covelli told the Tribune that authorities are looking at “every theory” but that they are “still pursuing this as a homicide.”
Yet the media reports are bolstered by a series of bizarre twists in the case.
Gliniewicz was a 30-year veteran, a husband and a father of four boys. Although he had already reached retirement age, his department asked him to stay on for an extra month, according to NBC Chicago. “G.I. Joe,” as his friends called him, dutifully agreed.
If Fox Lake was quick to honor the fallen cop, then the investigation was not. Other than Gliniewicz’s radio call and someone else’s DNA mysteriously found at the scene — investigators won’t say whose or what type — police had little to go on. Somehow, nobody in the tight-knit town of 10,000 had seen a thing.
Namely the three suspects.
In the days and nights after the fatal shooting, police officers described the search for the men as a matter of life or death.
“I would consider anyone who would murder police officer extremely dangerous,” said Cmdr. George Filenko, Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, on Sept. 3.
Despite the massive manhunt, however, authorities never caught a trace of the three men — two white, one black — Gliniewicz mentioned moments before his death. Stranger still, the three men have been downgraded since then to mere “persons of interest,” instead of suspects, although officials won’t say what evidence prompted the change.
Then there is the coroner’s report. A week after Gliniewicz died, Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd squelched rumors that the cop had been shot in the back or the neck by revealing that the fatal shot was to the torso.
“… I cannot give a manner of death because I don’t know what happened in terms of where did this bullet come from,” Rudd told the Chicago Tribune. “Right now, all unnatural deaths are up for suggestion. That means homicide, suicide, accident, undetermined.”
Rudd’s revelation prompted anger from investigators, who accused the coroner of jeopardizing the investigation. But it also prompted officials to admit that they were not discounting suicide as a cause of death.
The investigation was then roiled further by an even more bizarre event. On Friday, a former Chicago police officer named Joseph Battaglia called the coroner’s officer and allegedly threatened to harm Rudd and Filenko unless they declared Gliniewicz’s death a suicide, according to the Tribune.
Officials say Battaglia made a series of calls to police agencies and media outlets regarding Gliniewicz. His lawyer said the 54-year-old retired cop had been “stupid” and “reckless” but never meant to harm anyone.
“Everything is coming out but it’s still slow,” said attorney Myron Goldstin outside court, adding that Battaglia wasn’t involved in the Gliniewicz investigation and had no special insight into the case. “… As a former police officer, he was naturally, as everyone else is, concerned about the investigation.”
Finally, there are Tuesday’s media reports, which appear to back Battaglia’s claims by suggesting that Gliniewicz killed himself and staged the suicide to look like a murder.
“Gliniewicz’s body was found face down in a remote area, his service weapon next to him,” reported Fox News’s Matt Finn, citing the unnamed Task Force member. “Two shell casings were found: one came from a shot that hit Gliniewicz’s Kevlar vest; roughly 100 feet away, another casing was found from the fatal shot that struck Gliniewicz underneath his bulletproof vest in a downward trajectory, hitting him near the heart.”
“Sources say one hand was found underneath his chest in what’s described as a gun-holding position,” Finn continued. “Two separate sources say Gliniewicz had no defensive wounds and there was no sign of a struggle, especially one to save his own life.”
It’s still too early to say who killed Lt. Joe Gliniewicz, let alone why.
Like the broader debate over policing in America, the case of the beloved cop found dead in the dirt is proving more complicated than first meets the eye.