DECATUR — American flags and the soft sound of bagpipes carried in the wind Wednesday at a Decatur church as family, friends and hundreds of law-enforcement officers attended the funeral of the Champaign police officer who was fatally shot last week while responding to a domestic abuse call.
After a lengthy service at the Maranatha Assembly of God Church, a funeral procession accompanied by a police escort transported the body of 44-year-old Christopher Oberheim for burial to a Monticello cemetery.
Mourners gathered along the procession route to wave American flags in tribute. Firefighters parked their trucks on highway overpasses to show their support.
It was a striking display, not just for the family of Officer Oberheim, a veteran officer, but for the entire law-enforcement community.
Several of those who attended described the service as desperately sad and deeply emotional.
“It was one of most powerful events I’ve attended in my entire career,” said Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz. “It was an honor for me to be there.”
Among those who spoke at the funeral service were Officer Oberheim’s wife and four daughters.
“It was the law-enforcement family coming together to support the Oberheim family with love. It was the Oberheim family reaching out to law enforcement and giving them love right back,” Rietz said.
It will be back to business today. Authorities investigating the shooting that left two dead and one injured are tentatively scheduled to release their conclusions about what happened to the public.
Rietz said authorities will outline the chain of events that led to the shooting, which occurred about 3:25 a.m. May 19. They have based their findings on police body-camera video as well as on forensic evidence and witness statements.
Initial reports indicated that officers Oberheim and Jeff Creel were called to the Town Center Apartments, located in the 2400 block of North Neil Street, following a report of a domestic disturbance. After arriving on the scene, they confronted an armed man, 24-year-old Darion Lafayette, and shots were exchanged.
Creel, 50, was hit by three shots but was saved from a fatal injury by his bulletproof vest. He was hospitalized but later released.
Lafayette was pronounced dead at the scene while the mortally wounded Officer Oberheim, 44, died at Carle Foundation Hospital.
The parking lot of the church where the funeral was held was rife with symbolism. A Champaign police squad car draped in purple bunting was parked out front while the hearse that would carry the body was just behind.
The parking lot was filled with squad cars from a variety of departments that participated in the procession.
Police departments — large and small — from Illinois and beyond (Kentucky and Indiana, among other states) were represented. Among the Illinois departments were Edwardsville, Burr Ridge, the University of Chicago, Illinois State, DeKalb, Neoga, Kewanee, Alton and Moline.
At least two members of the Legislature — Decatur state Rep. Dan Caulkins and Mahomet state Sen. Chapin Rose — were in attendance.
Both indicated they had shed tears during the service, and each struggled for words to describe their reaction.
“I don’t know if I can express my thoughts,” Caulkins said. “It was emotional, and I don’t cry very well.”
After collecting himself, Caulkins suggested current and widespread denigration of police is part of a problem that “makes their jobs much more hazardous.”
Rose, who said Creel is “my kids’ tee-ball coach,” described the service as a “beautiful tribute” to Officer Oberheim that carried a larger message: “A key takeaway from this day is that there is evil in this world.”
Among other mourners was Huey Freeman, a former Decatur Herald & Review police reporter who didn’t know Officer Oberheim but worked closely with his former colleagues from the Decatur police.
“I’m close with a lot of his friends. ... My heart has been broken by this,” Freeman said.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 217-393-8251.
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