ST. CHARLES – April 26, 2018 in St. Charles was a cool, bright spring day bathed in sunshine, about 60 degrees with a light breeze.
But for Christopher Kemble Jr., who was 19 at the time, it was just another day of fighting off debilitating depression that had dogged him for years, according to records from St. Charles and Illinois State Police, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.
Shortly before noon, he posted a video of himself on social media stating, “I’m either going to the hospital right now, or I’m going to get shot by the cops.”
And then in the video, he displayed what looked like a black handgun.
The video continued: “I’ve been fighting this … for a year and a half and I can’t fight anymore. … Thank you to my parents, and my family and my brother. I love you guys the most. … Let my family know I love them and celebrate my death, don’t mourn it.”
Kemble then made a fake 911 call to report armed intruders into his family’s house on Voltaire Lane, bringing a veritable army of police to his street in the Renaux Manor subdivision on the west side of St. Charles.
And police shot Kemble after he pointed a gun at them.
He survived. And a year later, in an agreement with prosecutors, pleaded guilty to a felony – aggravated assault of a police officer and was placed on 30 months of probation.
The terms required that he not commit any new offenses, and that he follow mental health providers’ guidelines and take all his medication, records show.
But Kemble got a DUI in Sugar Grove in July and now faces a hearing in December on the violation of his probation. He fears being sent to prison.
Kemble, his parents and his attorney criticized Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon, all saying he should have been in Treatment Alternative Court, one of the specialty courts in Kane County for defendants with mental illness.
“He should not be in jail, he should be in treatment,” attorney Brick Van Der Snick said. “He has mental health issues and addiction issues but McMahon decided to tag him as a felon. He has fallen through the cracks in the system.”
McMahon said Kemble was living in DeKalb at the time he entered his plea and Treatment Alternative Court requires that a person be a resident of Kane County.
“We tried to design the terms of probation that would mimic the TAC program so he would get the benefits of treatment and be medication compliant, even though he would not be in the TAC program,” McMahon said.
Prosecutors did not seek any fines and reduced statutory assessments as well, McMahon said.
Van Der Snick said McMahon told him Kemble was not eligible because his parents had the means to pay for his treatment, an assertion that McMahon said is not true.
McMahon said he told Kemble’s attorneys that if he moved back to Kane County, he could be eligible for Treatment Alternative Court; Van Der Snick said that was not true.
“If we had known that Chris would have been eligible (for TAC) if he moved back, we would have moved him back immediately with his parents in St. Charles,” Van Der Snick said.
McMahon said, generally, violating probation with a new offense does not automatically mean a defendant will be sent to prison.
“It’s a very real risk, but our goal is to try to get help for Chris Kemble and keep the community safe,” McMahon said. “That has not changed. That is the goal here.”
People eligible for any of the county’s specialty courts can still be required to plead guilty to a felony, McMahon said.
“People who go through Treatment Alternative Court, Veterans Court and Drug Court sometimes have offenses dismissed at the end, but oftentimes they’re not,” McMahon said, generally speaking.
Though fearful of what Monday’s hearing will bring, Kemble said he is also hopeful that the court will see he needs help more than punishment.
“I’m not saying I’m innocent. I can’t act like I didn’t do anything. I’m an adult,” Kemble, now 22, said. “It’s a fine line to help someone versus punishment.”
Suicide by cop
Kemble staged what is known among police, psychologists and those who study suicide as suicide by cop, where a person in a mental health crisis stages a situation to have responding officers kill them.
Suicidologist Stephanie Weber, executive director of Suicide Prevention Services in Batavia, said that when a person is in a suicidal mindset, “there is no turning back and you want to die, no matter how.”
“Suicide is preventable, but at the moment the gun in your hands is facing the police – all they can do is try to talk you down,” Weber said. “Even with their mental health training, the suicidal mind needs some time to back out of it.”
Once a crisis rises to the point of suicide, the person has already thought of other options, “and the light at the end of the tunnel is gone,” she said.
Police are also traumatized when faced with a suicidal person who wants to be killed, she said, and that results in post traumatic stress disorder for the officers.
“You don’t become a policeman to kill people. You become a policeman to do good and protect people. The last thing a policeman wants is to shoot at someone,” Weber said. “But if they are being threatened, they have no choice. Like the train engineer when the train hits someone. They have that image in their head. PTSD lasts a long time.”
To better understand suicide and related issues, Weber recommended books by suicide researcher Dr. Thomas Joiner, “Why People Die by Suicide” and “The Perversion of Virtue: Understanding Murder-Suicide.”
Weber said Suicide Prevention Services, at 528 S. Batavia Ave., Batavia, 630-482-9699, also provides counseling for anxiety, depression and PTSD.
'I'm killing myself'
By the time Kemble posted his suicide video, he had already attempted suicide several times and been treated for depression.
That day, he sent goodbye messages to friends.
“He sent me a text saying goodbye and thank you for all the good times. Don’t mourn over my death, celebrate my life, and throw a party, please. Love you,” according to a 911 transcript of the call.
The friend told police, “I called him again and he was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m killing myself.’”
Kemble had been drinking that day. He bought a BB pistol that had an orange tip on it to signify that it wasn’t a real gun – but then he broke it off so it would look real.
He had already had similar incidents in which police had taken away similar BB pistols.
In fact, one of the officers on scene knew it was a fake gun and radioed about it – but according to state police records, the officer spoke on a frequency the other officers were not listening to.
Several police reports stated that the gun Kemble held resembled a semi-automatic pistol with a five-inch barrel.
“Kemble brings the pistol in front of his body and appears to rack the slide, which is consistent with the method used to load a round into the chamber of semi-automatic pistol,” the state police report stated. “After doing this, Kemble then moves the pistol behind his back.”
Kemble said he was trying to convince police that the gun was real, “so I could control the outcome.”
One of the officers who was familiar with Kemble from previous suicide attempts, tried to reason with him, saying, “Chris, I know it’s not real. Come on, man,” Kemble said.
But other police accounts state that Kemble yelled an obscenity at that officer.
As the situation escalated, another officer said he heard Kemble say, “You’re going to have to shoot me.”
Reports stated that Kemble held the gun toward two other officers and yelled: “One of you is not going home today. Is it going to be you?”
One of the officers told state police that “he is a religious person and he made peace with God thinking he was about to die, thinking he would be killed by Kemble,” the report stated.
Then police fired.
While in the ambulance, Kemble cried to a paramedic who was treating him that he was supposed to be dead.
“You were supposed to let them kill me,” Kemble said. “Let me die. They were supposed to kill me.”
'Drop the gun!'
The day of the shooting, his father, Christopher Kemble Sr. was at a business meeting in a St. Charles restaurant when he got a call. from a friend of his son.
“Mr. Kemble, Chris has a gun and he’s going to kill himself. There’s police cars in the neighborhood setting up.”
Kemble Sr. said he drove home to a scene of commotion: Police everywhere and then he saw his son walking down the sidewalk on Voltaire Lane headed toward Antione Place.
“I started to run to catch up to Christopher, yelling his name,” Kemble Sr. said. “He crosses the parkway from the sidewalk and all you can hear is a lot of yelling and screaming from police. You cannot hear a word they’re saying, just yelling and screaming.”
Kemble Sr. said he could see something in his son’s hand, but could not tell if it was a gun or a phone.
“Then all I heard was ‘Drop the gun! Gun! Gun! Gun!’ And boom! Boom! Boom! I had bullets ricocheting by my feet,” Kemble Sr. said. “Police tackled me and I saw my son get shot.”
The bullet went into Kemble Jr.’s abdomen and nearly killed him, Kemble Sr. said.
“He lost seven pints of blood. He lost a third of his liver. He lost his gall bladder, his appendix,” Kemble Sr. said. “The bullet exited his back and broke a rib, bruised his kidney and colon. He had 120 staples in his torso. He had four surgeries and he was on life support for two weeks.”
After he survived the shooting, his parents sent him to a residential treatment center in Oconomowoc, Wisc. for two months.
But Kemble Jr. continued to self-medicate with alcohol, leading up to the DUI charge in July.
After that arrest, Kemble Jr. went to a rehab facility for a month and then to a sober living facility in Elgin, before moving back in with his parents.
“I do not plan on drinking ever again,” Kemble Jr. said.
Kemble Jr. and his parents both say a more recent diagnosis for him is probably more accurate, that being bipolar disorder.
“I’m seeing a new psychiatrist now and it’s a provisional diagnosis, but that (bipolar) is what it sounds like,” Kemble Jr. said.
He stays sober by attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on Zoom and he has started a self-help support group on Facebook for people struggling with mental illness.
Kemble Jr. said he now sees a future for himself working in the mental health field or rehabilitation to help people as he has been helped.
And he is glad he survived.
“You do not realize it until you have an experience like this or you attempt to take your own life, that it’s to end the pain you are feeling,” Kemble Jr. said. “I learned in therapy that to stop the pain, see a therapist to talk about it instead of taking it in to your own hands.”
Too much gunfire?
Both Kemble Sr. and his wife, Sheryl Kemble, said they blame the St. Charles police for using too much gunfire that day instead of their training for crisis intervention.
Kemble Sr. said in addition to the AR15, .45 and a 9 mm were also fired, sending bullets flying into neighboring houses.
Sheryl Kemble said her son was known to police from repeated calls for service.
Police records show 11 calls for service from 2015 to 2018 at their house.
“He would be just either very angry or very suicidal or depressed. It was always an extreme," Sheryl Kemble said. “It’s not as though Christopher was an unknown person to the police department.”
In a memorandum from McMahon to Illinois State Police and St. Charles Police Chief James Keegan, the state’s attorney found that the three police officers who shot at Kemble Jr. did not know his weapon was a BB gun at the time and they were justified in their use of deadly force.
His memorandum defines assault when someone “knowingly engages in conduct which places another in reasonable apprehension of receiving a battery.”
The charge of felony aggravated assault is applied when the action is directed at a police officer, firefighter or emergency worker in the performance of his or her official duties, according to the memo.
McMahon disagrees that police were to blame for Kemble Jr. getting shot.
“He created an incredibly dangerous situation, not just for himself or for police officers, but for that neighborhood and there was a park nearby – Renaux Manor Park,” McMahon said. “He created that. He brought all that potential violence to that location.”
McMahon said he is sympathetic to Kemble Jr.’s mental health issues.
“But Christopher Kemble created the situation,” McMahon said. “Shifting the blame to the St. Charles Police Department is not where it belongs.”
No one knows which officer's gun fired the shot that hit Kemble. The bullet that was retrieved was a fragment, police records show.
Kemble Sr. said he received a letter from St. Charles’ self-insured worker’s compensation benefits program seeking $9,106.16 for medical care and treatment for the three officers involved in the shooting.
“In this instance, you are deemed the ‘at-fault’ party and notice is hereby given of our lien for subrogation,” the letter dated Dec. 26,1029 stated.
Kemble Sr. said he refused to pay it.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. Available 24 hours