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Amber Oberheim calls for action after Decatur police officer shot

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Amber Oberheim talks about the Peacemaker Project 703

DECATUR — In a week that already included funerals for two Illinois police officers killed in the line of duty, the Saturday shooting of a Decatur police officer just reinforced the dangers and sacrifices that come with the job.

“Despite everything that’s happened with Chris, I’ve done a pretty good job at keeping that anger out of my heart. It just doesn’t really have place there,” said Amber Oberheim, the widow of slain Champaign Police Officer Chris Oberheim. “But in light of the shooting that happened in the early hours this morning, as well as the two officers who were murdered doing their job, I’m fired up and I’m angry.”

Oberheim, who founded the Peacemaker Project 703 foundation in honor of her husband, said she feels a massive responsibility to support law enforcement officers as violent crimes, including gun violence, continue to rise and more people seemingly disrespect authority.

When her husband, a Decatur native, started at the Decatur Police Department in 2000, Oberheim said the risk associated with working in law enforcement was there but it was not as bad as it is now.

Watch now: Mother, daughters find mission, purpose in wake of slain officer tragedy

That heightened violence of which she spoke occurred again Saturday morning as a Decatur police officer initiated a stop on a vehicle observed making multiple traffic violations at about 2:39 a.m. in the area of South Jasper and East Clay streets. 

According to a news release, the driver fled on foot when the officer tried to make a traffic stop near 900 E. Clay St., police said. During the chase, the person fired one shot at the officer, who was hit and wounded, the statement said. The officer did not fire his or her weapon during the incident, police said. 

A Decatur police officer took the injured officer to a hospital, where the officer was treated and released for injuries to their face and shoulder. 

Arrest, new details emerge in shooting of 3-year-old in Decatur

Later Saturday, authorities announced the arrest of Joseph L. Williams, 23, of Decatur in connection with the shooting. Williams faces preliminary charges of aggravated resisting a peace officer, obstruction of justice, possession of machine gun and weapon by a felon, aggravated discharge of a weapon and unlawful use of weapon, and attempted murder of a peace officer. 

All preliminary charges are subject to review by the state's attorney’s office. Williams was still in custody in the Macon County Jail on Saturday night.

This incident remains an active investigation and additional arrests may occur. 

Other recent events like the murders of Bradley Police Sgt. Marlene Rittmanic and Wayne County Deputy Sean Riley, whose funeral was attended by Oberheim and her family, tell a series of events that are all too familiar for officers responding to reports.  

According to prosecutors, Rittmanic and her partner, Officer Tyler Bailey, were investigating a complaint about dogs that were barking in a car parked outside of a Comfort Inn when Darius Sullivan, of Kankakee, shot Bailey in the head after he and Rittmanic knocked on the door of the room where Sullivan and Xandria Harris, of Bradley, were staying.

Authorities say Sullivan then shot at Rittmanic, chased her down a hallway and disarmed her with Harris' help before he shot the officer twice with her own gun as she pleaded for her life. Bailey remains in critical condition.

In the situation of Deputy Riley, authorities say he was shot and killed by Ray Tate, of Hopkinsville, while responding to a motorist assist call on eastbound Interstate 64 and was found dead by another deputy who arrived at the scene.

“In that moment your mortality suddenly becomes very real and if those of us who weren’t police officers would step back and think about what we risk going to work every day, I think you would have no other option but to respect what they do,” Oberheim said.

After seeing what happened Saturday morning on social media, Oberheim said she reached out to her brother-in-law, who is on the Decatur force, to see if he was OK and although she cannot imagine what is going through his mind, she understands that a lot people can reach a point where enough is enough.

“I can’t imagine what it feels like to walk out the door and saying goodbye to your family, knowing that it could very well be the last time that you’re able to do that,” Oberheim said. “Just because you’re going to do your job, not because you’re looking for trouble.”

Chris Oberheim, 44, was killed in the early morning hours of May 19 while responding to a domestic violence call when suspect Darion Lafayette, 24, opened fire.

Oberheim suffered fatal injuries and his partner, fellow Champaign Officer Jeffrey Creel, was shot three times but survived to return fire, killing Lafayette.

Amber Oberheim said communities like Decatur have people who have stepped up to show their respect to officers by paying for meals, wearing apparel or flying flags and posting signs either in their home or on their car, but there needs to be more done to bring about change.

“We have to hold our leadership accountable and that goes everywhere from the small towns and their city councils and mayors, all the way up to larger towns and municipalities including our governor and the president,” Oberheim said. “When you look at Decatur and where this incident happened this morning, there’s enough people that have fire under their seats to get some things accomplished this year to make a change.”

Oberheim said she is working on organizing volunteers through the Peacemaker Project 703 this year and encourages people who want to support law enforcement officers to join and help.

“Our foundation is going to work hard to try to put those people to work in the places that their time will be the most effective in making that positive change for law enforcement,” Oberheim said. “I think it’s gonna take a lot of people to turn this around.” 


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Related to this story

Decatur police Sgt. Steven Carroll said officers responded to reports of shots fired in the 3700 block of North Woodford Street at about 2:15 p.m. 

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