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Community honors fallen police officer during procession

Aside from humming engines and muffled cries, the corner of Broadway and Michigan near Bradley Village Hall fell silent for approximately 15 minutes Thursday afternoon as hundreds gathered to honor fallen Bradley Police Sgt. Marlene Rittmanic.

Hundreds more lined the streets of Kankakee, Bradley and Bourbonnais as a police-escorted ambulance carried Rittmanic’s body from the Kankakee County Coroner’s Office to Clancy- Gernon Funeral Home in Bourbonnais.

Making its way past the village hall and police department, the procession included squad cars from local departments, as well as those as far away as Cook County, Manhattan, Flossmoor, Northbrook and more. They all drove silently with lights flashing as they followed the flag-draped ambulance.

At the funeral home, hundreds more waited to pay their respects for the officer killed in a shooting Wednesday night at Comfort Inn in Bradley. Flanked by dozens of officers from near and far, the Bradley Police Department stood saluting at attention as Sgt. Rittmanic’s casket, draped in an American flag, was taken into the funeral home.

Officers consoled each other — as well as friends and family in attendance — at the conclusion of the ceremony honoring the officer shot and killed in the line of duty.

“Sergeant was a good friend, on and off the job,” said St. Anne Police officer Josh Rasmussen. “She always had our backs.”

“She was a true professional,” added Rasmussen’s wife, Teralyn Rasmussen, who is a Kankakee Animal Control officer and noted that Rittmanic helped that department when needed.

Near village hall in Bradley, many stood holding flags — both the American flag and the “Thin Blue Line” flag that symbolizes support for law enforcement. A woman walked through the crowd passing out blue bracelets reading “Duty, Honor, Courage” on one side, and “I got your 6” on the other.

Several attendees held homemade signs, including Ashton Williams and Jacqueline Jackson, both 13-year-old Bradley residents. Their sign read “RIP to BPD, Best Cop Ever; We Love You.”

Standing with the teens was Sarah Fritz, 41, of Bradley, who said she grew up with Rittmanic.

“We lost a great life,” Fritz said. “It’s a big loss to the community, and it’s very devastating. Not only her life, but the other [officer] fighting for his life.”

On Thursday afternoon, police ID’d the second Bradley police officer shot during the incident at the hotel as Tyler Bailey. Officials said early Thursday that the officer was listed in critical condition and had been transferred to a Chicago area hospital. No additional information has been released on the officer’s condition.

The outpouring of support shown Thursday made it clear the impact that Rittmanic’s work had on the community of Bradley and beyond.

“I think it’s important to be here for our community,” said Kelley Kelley, of Bradley, who attended the procession with her family. “Even though we didn’t know these officers personally, it’s still something that we should all get together for [as a] community and teach our children.”

Bourbonnais resident Cindy Nichols, whose son is a police sergeant in Alabama, held a Thin Blue Line flag as the procession passed by, periodically wiping a tear.

“I can imagine their pain,” Nichols said. “You worry every single day.”

The afternoon procession was preceded by an early-morning procession the same day as Rittmanic’s body was taken from Riverside Medical Center to the coroner’s office. She was 49 and a longtime member of the Bradley force.

Search for gunman suspects continues, reward upped to $25,000

Editor's Note: This story has been updated. To read the latest version of this story, click here

BRADLEY — An arrest warrant was issued on Thursday for Darius D. Sullivan, 25, Bourbonnais, charging him with fatally shooting Bradley Police Sgt. Marlene Rittmanic and seriously wounding Bradley Police Officer Tyler Bailey.

The no-bond warrant includes nine charges — six for murder, two for attempted murder and aggravated battery/discharging a firearm.

Police have been searching for Sullivan since the shootings late Wednesday at Comfort Inn on Illinois 50 in Bradley.

Local agencies took to social media in the early morning hours of Thursday seeking the public’s help in locating the suspect. A $10,000 reward was offered Thursday morning for information leading to Sullivan’s arrest. According to Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey, that amount was increased to $25,000 on Thursday evening.

Police say that if you encounter Sullivan, do not attempt to confront him as he is believed to be armed and dangerous. Rather, police say, call the Illinois State Police Hotline at 815-698-2315. You can remain anonymous through that hotline or through Crime Stoppers at 815-93-CRIME.

In a Thursday morning news release, Bradley police said they were also looking for another person of interest believed to be involved. Later that evening, Illinois State Police ID’d the person as Xandria A. Harris, 26, Bradley, saying a warrant was issued for her arrest in “relation to this incident.”

No further information was released Thursday, though officials say a press conference is scheduled for Friday.

What happened

At 9:41 p.m. Wednesday, Rittmanic and Bailey arrived at the hotel on a report of dogs barking in an unattended vehicle in the parking lot. They located the vehicle and the hotel room where the possible owner was staying.

While initiating a conversation, the officers were attacked by the occupants of the room and both were shot, according to police. They were transported to Kankakee hospitals, where Rittmanic died. Bailey was transported to a Chicago area hospital where he was listed in critical condition Thursday afternoon.

Prior arrest

Sullivan was featured on the Kankakee County Sheriff Department’s Warrant Wednesday on June 16. He was wanted on a warrant for residential burglary, theft/deception and knowingly damaging property. He was featured after failing to appear for a June 11 court date.

Sullivan was also featured in May 2018, wanted on warrants for burglary, theft, and criminal damage to government property.

Line-of-duty deaths

This is the first time Kankakee County has seen an officer shot in the line of duty since the death of Anthony Samfay in 1996.

A Kankakee police officer, Samfay was shot and killed on Oct. 17, 1996, during a routine traffic stop. He was 26 years old and had been on the job for just two years.

His killer, Eric Lee, is serving a life sentence. Samfay was the first city officer killed since the 1913 shooting death of August Dickman.

Year in Review: Top news stories of 2021

On a beautiful, sunny Thursday morning in late August, events just outside of the Kankakee County Courthouse turned the day into one of the most openly violent in Kankakee’s history as two men were gunned down in an apparent ongoing dispute marking it as the region’s defining moment in 2021.

It, of course, was not the year’s only major event as the region dealt with employment staffing issues as well as a week-long teachers’ strike in Bourbonnais and major changes on the local political leadership front.

Two die in shootout near courthouse

Two men died in a gun battle that occurred outside the Kankakee County Courthouse on Aug. 26.

Victor Andrade was gunned down by Antonio Hernandez as Victor, his cousin Miguel Andrade and another man were walking towards a parking lot on the southside of the courthouse. Victor Andrade was at the courthouse for a case not related to the shooting.

A heavily armed Hernandez was waiting and ambushed them.

Hernandez shot Victor multiple times. He also shot the cousins’ acquaintance, police said.

Just minutes after Victor’s slaying, Miguel shot and killed Hernandez with a weapon he had retrieved from their vehicle. The two men had engaged in a running gun battle across an open area just north of the old Kankakee County Jail.

The 28-year-old victim was taken to a local hospital where he had surgery for his wounds.

Miguel Andrade is charged with murder and possession of a stolen firearm.

The homicides of Victor Andrade and Hernandez were among 15 that occurred in Kankakee County in 2021.

This year has had the most homicides in at least the last 10 years, according to the Kankakee County Coroner’s office.

Ten homicides occurred in 2016, which was the year that previously had the highest number of homicides in recent years, according to coroner’s office data.

Staffing issues/lack of employees

Employers may have squirmed in their seats when keynote speaker Patrick Dolan at December’s Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner made the following proclamation:

Employers are no longer in control of the workforce. Workers are.

“It’s a different world right now,” Dolan said. “It might not go back to what it was. I believe we are going to be in this pattern for years to come.”

The “pattern” Dolan referred to was one in which employers cannot fill job vacancies. There are thousands of available jobs in Kankakee County as well as the surrounding counties, but those out of work do not appear to be in any rush to seek those positions.

“There is a worker shortage. The issue going forward for employers seeking workers is how do you become an ‘employer of choice?’ How do you reach that status?” he said.

Bourbonnais teachers strike; board members ousted

Bourbonnais Elementary School District 53 teachers went out on strike March 4-11 after negotiations with the school board proved unproductive.

The Bourbonnais Education Association represents nearly 170 members.

The school board and teachers agreed to a three-year contract, which includes a 10.25 percent total raise, as well as maintaining current insurance benefits.

The strike had repercussions in the April 6 general municipal election.

Four incumbent board members were ousted in favor of four first-time candidates. There were nine candidates in all running for the four seats.

Local elections see change in Kankakee leadership, Watson wins election in Bradley

The April general municipal election saw a change in leadership in the city of Kankakee.

Republican 6th Ward Alderman Chris Curtis unseated Democratic Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong in overwhelming fashion as she was trying for a second, four-year term.

In the 2018 mayoral election, Wells-Armstrong, then an alderwoman, ousted Mayor Nina Epstein.

In Bradley, the mayor pro tem title changed to just mayor as Mike Watson easily defeated former longtime village trustee Lori Gadbois in the three-person race.

Clark out as Bourbonnais Township parks director

The 15-year tenure of Bourbonnais Township Park District executive director Hollice Clark will conclude at the end of April 2022.

At a special BTPD board meeting Sept. 1, the board voted 4-0 not to renew Clark’s contract. Clark has served as the park district’s top administrator since April 30, 2007.

During his sometimes emotional statement, Clark said during the years with the district he had only two goals: enrich the community’s quality of life and make the BTPD the best park district in Kankakee County.

“I am confident that these two goals were met as I walked around the parks and facilities, watching the public enjoying the facilities, parks and programs that the district has,” he said.

Voting not to renew his contract were board president Brian Hebert, vice president David Zinanni, and board members Bill Bukowski and Anthony Settle.

Hebert declined to comment saying it was a personnel matter.

The fifth board member, Wayne Delabre, was not at the meeting, instead he had submitted his letter of resignation.

Judge sentences Simms to prison, home confinement

Richard Simms, the former executive director of the region’s wastewater treatment plant and Kankakee’s Environmental Services Utilities department, was sentenced in September to nine months in federal prison and two years house arrest for stealing $2 million from the public coffers.

U.S. District Judge Colin S. Bruce ordered the 74-year-old Simms to report to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons on Jan. 11, 2022. After serving his time in prison as part of a plea deal, Simms will be on three years supervised release.

Simms, who now lives in Marietta, Ohio, was also ordered to repay the approximate $1,257,000 improperly paid from ESU and $768,000 from Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency, the region’s wastewater treatment plant, from the timeframe of October 2014 to April 2018.

KRMA is responsible for treating wastewater from its member municipalities: Kankakee, Bradley, Bourbonnais and Aroma Park. It also treats wastewater from Manteno and Chebanse by intergovernmental agreement. ESU is the Kankakee department that oversees Kankakee’s public works and sewer system.

Simms agreed to plead guilty during his March 1 court date after being indicted on the fraud charge in August 2020.

Splash Valley reopens

Kankakee Valley Park District reopened Splash Valley Aquatic Center in May.

It was closed following the 2015 season due to leaking water in the lazy river and other major mechanical issues. It sat dormant for the next three summers and as weeds overwhelmed the exterior of the facility, it looked doubtful that the water park would ever reopen.

When Dayna Heitz began her tenure as executive director in October 2016, she made it clear reopening the pool was a top priority. The board took action in July 2018 when it sold $2 million of government obligation bonds to rehab the park.

Construction on the renovation finally began in November 2019. The district was planning on a reopening in the summer of 2020, but then COVID hit, pushing the reopening to this year.

Splash Valley was constructed with a $6.6 million Illinois FIRST grant acquired by then-Gov. George Ryan and opened in 2004.

U.S. Census numbers fall in Kankakee County

The population for Kankakee County — according to figures finally released by the U.S. Census Bureau in August — dropped from 113,449 in 2010 to 107,502 in 2020, a reduction of 5.2 percent.

However, in Kankakee — Kankakee County’s most populous municipality — its population fell from 27,537 in the 2010 count to 24,052 in 2020, a 12.6 percent plunge.

Bradley lost 476 residents, going from 15,895 residents in 2010 to 15,410 in 2020. In Bourbonnais, the village’s count went from 18,690 in 2010 to 18,164, a drop of 526.

Manteno experienced a miniscule rise in population: from 9,204 in 2010 to 9,210 in 2020.

Residents being missed in the decennial count due to the pandemic is most certainly likely, but these numbers could have long-lasting ramifications in terms of federal money coming back to Kankakee County as those formulas are based upon census data.

Hopkins Park finally gets natural gas service

In August, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a bill that finally brings natural gas services to Hopkins Park in Pembroke Township.

The gas service had been talked about for decades.

State Rep. Jackie Haas (R-Bourbonnais) guided the bill through the legislature with aid from State Sen. Patrick Joyce (D-Essex). The bill had wide bipartisan support.

In a statement, Samuel Payton, Pembroke Township supervisor and a Kankakee County Board member, and Hopkins Park Mayor Mark Hodge called this “a historic moment in our communities’ history.”

BBCHS students protest

Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School administrators met in September with students who took part in protests to get to the heart of their concerns and talk about moving forward.

More than 100 BBCHS students gathered outside the school Sept. 17 before classes started to protest how the school has handled cases of alleged sexual harassment. Some painted teal-colored handprints on themselves, chanted “Change BB” and held signs to bring attention to the cause.

Flyers posted in school bathrooms referencing sexual harassment and linking to a fast-growing online petition were taken down by administrators earlier in the week because the students did not get permission to display them.

In an unrelated matter, a student was arrested after he brought an unloaded gun to school on Nov. 29.

A parent was notified from their student that another student was in possession of a gun while on a school bus. This parent notified local law enforcement immediately.