Remembering two law enforcement officers who gave all
By Julie Gerke
Tyler Timmins and Marlene Rittmanic did not know each other, but their lives are forever tied by a special heartache of undimmed pride and unimaginable grief.
Timmins, 36, was on patrol for the Pontoon Beach Police Department when he saw a suspected stolen car at a gas station. It’s a pretty common sight in that part of Metro East, and several other officers arrived as the veteran cop walked up to investigate — but the driver turned, saw Timmins and pulled a trigger.
His killer pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Rittmanic, 49, a sergeant with Bradley Police Department, and BPD (Bradley Police Department) Officer Tyler Bailey, then 27, responded to a motel for a complaint about barking dogs in a parked car. Prosecutors say a woman opened the motel room door but blocked entry; her boyfriend charged through, shot Bailey in the head and then shot Rittmanic in the back. When his gun jammed, they both worked to disarm Rittmanic of her service weapon and fired two rounds into her neck as she pleaded for her life.
She died an hour later. Bailey, after months of hospitalization and rehabilitation, remains on the department roster but has not returned to duty.
Four people in Illinois and three in Indiana face charges that include murder, attempted murder, selling a weapon to a felon, selling a weapon to a minor, obstruction and aiding a fugitive and child endangerment. Two of the Indiana defendants were sentenced to six years in prison after they pleaded guilty to assisting a criminal.
Timmins and Rittmanic were among 73 police officers nationwide in 2021 who died “as a result of felonious acts,” according to an FBI database, and among 129 overall that year. Illinois lost 14 police officers and five firefighters in line-of-duty deaths in 2021, another eight officers and one firefighter in 2022, and two officers and three firefighters so far in 2023, according to the Chicago Tribune, the Officer Down Memorial Page and U.S. Fire Administration.
Each year since 1962, the nation has honored lost officers May 15 during National Police Week. The Illinois Police Officers Memorial Committee honored the state’s fallen on May 4 during ceremonies in Springfield.
Life and death came differently to Timmins and Rittmanic, but they shared an unbreakable bond: Dedication to service and a belief in making the world a better place.
End of watch, Oct. 26, 2021
His dad was an Air Force veteran. An uncle was a state trooper and a cousin was a sergeant in Wood River. Timmins was 17 and working at a bowling alley when an armed robber pointed a gun at him. His widow said her father-in-law “thinks that lit a fire under him, but he always felt Tyler was going to be a police officer. There was never an option in Tyler’s eyes or his family’s eyes for him to be anything but a police officer.”
Linsey Timmins (then Linsey Rice) was working on a law enforcement degree when she met Timmins, then chief of the Worden Police Department, in July 2016. He’d already worked at Wood River and Roxana, and later joined the Hartford and Pontoon Beach departments, serving a total of 14 years. After graduation, she worked briefly as a security guard before she joined the police department at the Edwardsville campus of Southern Illinois University.
She’d spent her early years in Jacksonville, moving to southern Illinois while in high school. Trying to decide on a college major, Linsey Timmins remembered finding comfort and safety as a little girl in the arms of a police officer who had helped during a family crisis. “[I thought] if I could be that for someone in their bad moments, that would be good for me,” she said. “It’s what God called for me to do. … I am today because of [how] I grew up.”
It took a while for the single mom to introduce her young daughter to the man with the permanent smile and goofy personality — even then, he was “mommy’s friend.” It was a while longer before Timmins’ title changed to “mommy’s boyfriend.” It didn’t take long at all for Timmins to love both mother and daughter, and for the trio to become a family in heart if not in name.
It was five years before the adults said “I do” in a Sept. 11, 2021, ceremony where Timmins also committed himself to Chloe, who responded with a surprise toast to her new dad. A short honeymoon in Jamaica was interrupted by several calls from work, then the Timmins family settled into married life and dreams of how they and Chloe would spend their future.
Six weeks later, Tyler Timmins was dead.
‘Tyler put me there’
In a department of 18 sworn officers, Pontoon Beach records clerk Dawn Lienemann and her co-workers were at the hospital as Timmins lay dying. During the height of COVID, the hospital wasn’t letting outsiders in the treatment room. Lienemann wasn’t shy in letting a nurse know that Linsey Timmins needed support, and she was going to give it, to hell with hospital rules.
Lienemann said that when she walked in, “[Linsey] fell into my arms. It felt like Tyler put me there [to be with his wife]. … I felt like I needed to, for Tyler, to take care of Linsey.”
Linsey Timmins said the same thing. “I feel like the moment I saw her, I felt kinda drawn to her. I feel like Ty made sure I ended up in her arms before he left.”
It wasn’t the first time the Pontoon Beach Police Department had been gut-punched: A year earlier, then-detective Lee Brousseau almost died after a head-on collision. He and Timmins had worked together at other departments and were overjoyed to reunite at Pontoon Beach.
“I loved working with Tyler; he was just the best person to work with,” said Brousseau, now an investigator for the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office in Edwardsville. “We had a great friendship. When I got in that accident, every time I woke up, he was always at the hospital with me and was the biggest part of the escort home for me. Me and Tyler were extremely close.”
Brousseau remembers his friend as thoughtful and caring, and as someone who related to people quickly.
“Tyler dedicated his life to service and how he conducted his life and how much he cared about people, just leaps and bounds beyond most,” Brousseau said. “You run into people [like that] but … [he was] levels above everyone else and had passion for helping everyone. … He tried to make everyone feel good about themselves on our calls. Not everyone has that skillset; that’s something you’re born with.”
Brousseau and Lienemann help provide leadership and support within the Tyler Timmins Memorial Foundation, bind the family’s emotional wounds, and remember their friend with love and laughter.
The community has supported the department and the Timmins family from the get-go, Lienemann said, just as they did with Brousseau. People donate money for scholarships, show up at barbecues and cornhole tournaments, and drop off food or snacks. Students write letters of support and send cards and drawings.
The efforts, said Lienemann, are especially noteworthy since Pontoon Beach is just 22 minutes from Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown’s death at the hands of police in 2014 sparked weeks of fear and unrest.
“I think we can change the perspective of law enforcement through Tyler’s legacy and the things we’re doing,” Brousseau said. “It’s what he was huge on and it can go a long way to changing that dynamic back, back to more law enforcement [support]. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to earn the trust back in the communities and that’s just the reality of it. Trust is something that’s earned, it’s not just given.”
Legacy of love
Linsey Timmins has made the foundation her full-time job, raising money for scholarships at Lewis and Clark Community College, sharing challenge coins and patches, and telling her husband’s story to everyone she can. The foundation provides financial assistance and emotional support to families in Illinois “who are like me, who have lost a loved one in the line of duty,” and to officers injured in the line of duty.
The foundation recently accepted the funds of the Kyle Deatherage Foundation, created 10 years ago to honor the memory of an Illinois State Police trooper killed by a Scott’s Law violator. Linsey Timmins noted, “They saw that our mission was very similar to theirs … [the Kyle Deatherage Foundation is] not only Tyler’s legacy but Kyle’s as well.”
During a text conversation in 2020, Timmins asked her husband if he’d do anything different with his life. His reply became part of her eulogy:
“We can’t do anything different,” he wrote. “It’s how God created us. I will not deny what I was called to do … If all good officers walk away, who would be left?”
Timmins lives that lesson daily. “We let fear drive us away sometimes,” she said. “We know, as Christians, there’s purpose and tragedy and beauty within the chaos. You’ve got to find a way to look for that. I think that’s what Tyler meant by that.”
Photos/Courtesy of Linsey Timmins
End of watch, Dec. 30, 2021
Rittmanic, the youngest of seven kids, had a big grin, loved dogs and poetry, and firmly believed in doing right by others. She spent a year in the United States Army, and probably would have made it a career except for a foot problem.
She was working at the Bradley Post Office in 1998 when a chance encounter at a softball game sparked a lifetime of love, a houseful of rescue dogs and a place where she knew she belonged.
Rittmanic and Lyn Stua, a state auditor, never really were apart again. They pledged their lives to each other first in a civil union on June 11, 2011, and a court converted their status a year later when Illinois legalized same-sex marriage.
They had moved to Kankakee in 2007, building a house decorated with pictures taken by Rittmanic, an avid photographer, and a big, fenced yard for their dogs.
“Our life was set. We were fiercely in love, very happy,” Stua-Rittmanic said. “We had a plan for our lives beyond work. All of that was literally ripped away from me in a matter of an hour. Now I have to try just to survive on planet earth in a whole new life.”
Bradley Police Chief Donald Barber had known Rittmanic since she was a teenager and became her mentor when she became an auxiliary officer at Bradley, then moved to Iroquois County and back to Bradley, where she was promoted to detective and then to sergeant.
“I think … she wanted to make a difference and wanted to serve,” said Barber. “Look, losing her like that was devastating but Marlene was probably, if not the one of, the most exceptional people I’ve had the honor of knowing. She always strived to make a difference with people. She always thought she could fix people. We lost a true peace officer in every sense of the word.
“In our job, people gravitated to her. She was one of the officers people wanted to run toward, not from,” he said.
Barber and Stua-Rittmanic said the 25-year officer had a key phrase: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
“Community policing … means helping [people] get things done rather than making their lives worse,” explained Stua-Rittmanic. “She was a very thoughtful, very deep person. She didn’t talk unless she had something important to say. There was no fluff.”
With her gift for photography, Rittmanic often documented the people and activities within her department. Barber was among those who tricked her into taking pictures of a 2020 awards ceremony where she ultimately was named officer of the year.
The Rittmanic house now is a living memorial, with photographs in every room taken by and of Rittmanic. The collection grew as mourners created art in the officer’s memory, Stua-Rittmanic said.
Seeing her wife’s photographic displays at the police department “sort of hits me hard,” Stua-Rittmanic said. “Even in my own house, I kinda walk with my head down. [Seeing her photographs will] throw me back a couple steps.”
At the police department, Rittmanic’s work family continues to work through its grief.
“If she was your friend, you had a friend for life,” Barber said. “She was very loyal to the people she served and loyal to her friends. We’ll never be able to replace a Marlene Rittmanic — or replace Tyler Bailey’s attributes or dedication to the job in the short time he was doing it. They were two remarkable people.”
Photos/Courtesy of Lyn Stua-Rittmanic
For more info
- Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service — May 15 at noon, west front, U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.
The color we bleed is that of Deep Blue,
The blood that is shed is without asking for who.
No time to be afraid, no time to cry,
No choice in what we do, where we go or when we die.
The color we bleed is that of Deep Blue.
Too often one will pay the Ultimate price,
Those who wear the uniform accept this sacrifice.
Beyond the Call of Duty one day might be mine,
No regrets, sorrow or fear as I walk the Blue Line.
The color I’ll Bleed is that of Deep Blue.
- Marlene Rittmanic