FOX LAKE, Ill. — The news that Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz was fatally shot drew national attention to this small village in September. The announcement this week by investigators that Gliniewicz staged his suicide after years of stealing money from a police program brought that focus right back to this community near the Wisconsin border.
For people here, the impact of these very different revelations was felt far closer to home. In September, after Gliniewicz, 52, reported that he was pursuing three possible suspects and was found with a fatal gunshot wound, a massive manhunt spread through the area, closing schools and bringing waves of police officers and federal agents. A tearful funeral followed, as residents publicly mourned for a man they knew as “G.I. Joe.”
A day after investigators said they believed Gliniewicz was a thief, new reports emerged suggesting that he had looked into putting “a hit” on a village official looking into police finances and that his relatives were now part of the probe.
Meanwhile, residents say they are shocked at what investigators said Wednesday and cannot square the revelations with the man they knew.
Gliniewicz was “a good and honest man,” said Ruth Hogan, who had known him for three decades.
He was a reliable, recognizable and trusted face in Fox Lake, she said, because he always took extra steps to make sure people felt safe. Gliniewicz would attend to minor problems, like helping people find their car keys, and he routinely went “beyond the call of duty just to make sure we were okay,” said Hogan, 51, a jewelry store owner.
“I find it so hard to believe he was leading a double life,” she said.
Investigators were unsparing in their portrayal of Gliniewicz. George Filenko, commander of the task force investigating Gliniewicz’s death, described in detail both “a carefully staged suicide” meant to dupe police into thinking someone else had shot the officer and “extensive criminal acts that Gliniewicz had committed.” He said that Gliniewicz had stolen money “in the five-figure range” over a period of at least seven years.
“Gliniewicz committed the ultimate betrayal to the citizens he served and the entire law enforcement community,” Filenko said.
Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, the country’s largest police union — of which Gliniewicz was a member — said that he thought law enforcement officers would be even angrier than the citizens who believed three people may have killed a police officer and were on the loose.
“This man didn’t just betray himself and his family,” Pasco said. “He betrayed a profession that is sworn to uphold the law.”
Authorities did not say Wednesday why Gliniewicz tried to make his suicide look like someone else had killed him. Det. Christopher Covelli, a spokesman for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, said one possibility was that Gliniewicz was trying to preserve his public image.
“He was revered as a hero and didn’t want to make it look as if he was taking his own life,” he said.
Covelli said that nothing suggested that Gliniewicz had staged the suicide to preserve death benefits for his family. The manner of an officer’s death can affect the amount of money given to the family, according to Pasco. As a result, Gliniewicz’s family — he was a married father of four — could lose a substantial sum since investigators say he did not die in the line of duty.
The Fox Lake police pension fund has not received a formal application for death benefits from Gliniewicz’s widow, according to an attorney for the fund’s board of trustees.
In a statement Thursday, the pension fund’s board of trustees said that it did send Gliniewicz’s widow an application for survivor’s benefits, but since it has not been submitted, the board does not know what kind of benefits she may seek. If she does apply for benefits, the board would convene and determine whether she could get any benefits.
Meanwhile, a group that donated money to the Gliniewicz family after his death now says it wants that money back. The 100 Club of Chicago gives money to the families of officers killed in the line of duty, and they gave the family a $15,000 check with more money expected to follow.
“In this case it was not a line-of-duty death. That is clear,”Joe Ahern, the group’s chief executive told the Chicago Tribune. “We will ask the family for the money back.”
Relatives of Gliniewicz could not be reached for comment Wednesday. His family released a statement through an Illinois law firm that did not directly respond to what investigators announced and asked for privacy as they continue to mourn.
“Today has been another day of deep sorrow for the Gliniewicz family,” the family wrote in the statement. In interviews conducted during the weeks after Gliniewicz died, his wife and son both argued against speculation that the fatal gunshot could have been self-inflicted.
For some in Fox Lake, the shock at Wednesday’s revelations were paired with an insistence that the authorities may have had it wrong.
“Even if you wanted it to look like murder, you would do something more accurate,” said Jody Neubiser, 57. “He knew too much about guns and their effect. He had too many things going for him. He would not take the risk the way they say he did it.”
Ruth Hogan, who had known Gliniewicz for more than half of both of their lives, said that police don’t always get things right.
“How many people are sitting on death row or in jail for crimes they didn’t commit because somebody got it wrong? They can be wrong,” said Ruth Hogan, the jewelry store owner. “There is always that chance that they could have gotten it wrong.”
Still, some others simply weren’t sure what to believe.
“I don’t know the truth,” said Naile Hasane, 76. She said she cried for days after his death. “He was a nice guy, that’s all I know.”
Police say they are continuing the investigation because Filenko says what they found “strongly indicates criminal activity on the part of at least two other individuals.”
He would not elaborate on what the probe would entail, and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, which will be investigating, also said it could not go into additional detail. A federal official familiar with the ongoing investigation said that it is unclear if any federal laws were broken, which is what the Justice Department would look into.
Local and federal officials on Wednesday said they could not comment on who else was under investigation. But according to local media reports, the probe has extended to two of Gliniewicz’s relatives. The Chicago Sun-Times and NBC 5 in Chicago both reported that Gliniewicz’s wife and son were being investigated.
Anne Marrin, the village administrator for Fox Lake, said the village “fully supports the prosecution of each and every individual who conspired with Lt. Gliniewicz and/or has engaged in criminal activity” at the community’s expense.
On Thursday morning, the Chicago Tribune reported that investigators have seen evidence showing that Gliniewicz reached out to a woman linked with a motorcycle gang to discuss someone harming Marrin. Later on Thursday, an official told the Associated Press that Gliniewicz had sent a text message asking about getting a “gang member to put a hit on the village manager.”
Gliniewicz’s death occurred just days after Darren Goforth, a Texas deputy, was shot and killed while getting gas. This led to heated accusations that protests against police — which officers say are causing increased anxiety — were also prompting violence.
The number of officers who are shot and killed in the line of duty is down from the same point last year, according to non-profit groups that track line-of-duty fatalities. There have been 31 police officers shot and killed by a suspect so far this year, the Officer Down Memorial Page reports. And statistics show that the average number of police officers killed each year has plummeted since the 1970s, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund.
Mark Berman reported from Washington.
[This post has been updated.]