Newly released documents reveal that at least one Fox Lake Police officer questioned whether Lt. Joseph Gliniewicz might have taken his own life, within minutes of his body being discovered last September.
Gliniewicz had radioed in that he was pursuing three suspects. Arriving officers said when they first found the lieutenant’s body, they noticed his holster was empty and his pepper spray was missing. Eventually, the officer’s weapon was found in tall grass a few feet from his body, and it’s believed he had purposely left his pepper spray canister nearby in an effort to throw off arriving police.
The reports, obtained by NBC5 Investigates on Monday, summarize interviews conducted with first responders by the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force. They reveal that three of the arriving officers all reported hearing at least one gunshot. And that one sergeant, who was a former Gliniewicz student, recalled a colleague raising the possibility of suicide.
The reports show that one officer, Lt. Mark Schindler, said he was overcome with emotion upon seeing Gliniewicz’s lifeless body in the weeds.
“Why, Joe, why?” Schindler recalled crying, shortly before cautioning arriving paramedics that suspects could be at large with Gliniewicz’s service weapon and pepper spray. He told investigators three weeks after the incident that he knew Gliniewicz had financial concerns, because he spoke about his retirement funds not being enough to pay student loans or health insurance. But Schindler scoffed at suggestions that the Fox Lake officer might have taken his own life.
“This is not a suicide,” Schindler said. “Joe would not kill himself.”
But not everyone was so sure.
Officer Russell Ebbing noted that bushes at the purported crime scene did not appear to have been disturbed, and that Gliniewicz’s right hand looked like it was holding a gun. At the time, Ebbing said he reacted like the scene was genuine.
“He’s gone,” he recalled telling fellow officers. “Get your gun out and call out anything you see.”
But when she was interviewed, Fox Lake Sergeant Dawn Deservi, who at the age of 15 had been a Police Explorer in Gliniewicz’s post, said that Ebbing called her attention to the position of the lieutenant’s hand.
“Sgt. Deservi observed the hand, and knew officer Ebbing was referring to a possible suicide,” the report states, “due to the position of Lt. Gliniewicz’s right hand finger positions.”
But Deservi said she threw cold water on those assumptions.
“Sgt. Deservi believed officer Ebbing’s analysis of the hand finger positions was wrong,” investigators wrote, “and she attributed it to the normal way the hand/fingers came to rest upon death.”
Still, Deservi told investigators that she had observed equipment missing which later turned up in Gliniewicz’s Explorer Post. Police say they believe the lieutenant killed himself, due to questions about missing Explorer funds and police equipment.
“Sgt. Deservi said the police department seemed to be missing various pieces of equipment such as breaching gear, patrol rifles, etc., which later had been determined to be in use by the Explorer post,” the report states. Eventually, 150 investigators would be assigned to the case, pursuing over 400 leads, and thousands of emails and text messages from Gliniewicz’s cell phone. Two months after the event, they called the lieutenant’s death a “carefully staged suicide”.
“The investigation found that Gliniewicz had been stealing and laundering money from the Fox Lake Police Explorer Post,” commander George Filenko said in late November. “Gliniewicz committed the ultimate betrayal, to the citizens he served, and the entire law enforcement community.”