Sangamon County authorities held a press conference Wednesday providing details about the death of DCFS child advocate Diedre Silas in Thayer.
Sangamon County State’s Attorney Dan Wright, Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell, and DCFS Director Marc Smith gave remarks about the investigation that surround Benjamin Reed allegedly stabbing Silas to death while she was on a home visit after reports of children being in danger at a residence in the 300 block of Elm Street in Thayer.
Wright and Smith largely side-stepped details about procedures that Silas and local law enforcement followed in responding to the endangered child call.
Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell confirmed previously reported details of the call and responding agencies to the scene. Campbell also confirmed that six children , ages 1 to 7, were present at the home when the stabbing occurred but could not confirm whether they witnessed the incident. He said all of the children were currently safe and being held in protective custody. Campbell said he didn’t know if any of the children were Reed’s. He also says that other adults were confirmed to be living at the residence and present at the time of the incident, but he did not know how many. Campbell did confirm that the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Department wasn’t called in initially to assist any other agencies prior to the stabbing. Campbell says it is regular routine for the Sheriff’s Department to assist other government agencies in dangerous situations.
Wright says he has formally charged Reed with three charges: first degree murder, aggravated battery, and unlawful restraint. Wright says if Reed is convicted, he could face up to natural life in prison: “As a result of the conduct which caused the death of Ms. Silas was as the statute says ‘exceptionally brutal, heinous, and indicative of wanton cruelty.’ As a result he is eligible for a term of natural life in prison. His bond is currently set in the amount of $5 million.”
Smith says that DCFS is taking responsibility for the situation and will work on amending policies and procedures while not compromising the communities they serve: “DCFS recognizes what a horrible tragedy this was. We understand the emotions that people are feeling around what happened, because nobody feels them outside of her family, deeper than we do. We work hard to try to ensure that our staff are able to manage this extraordinarily challenging work in the most difficult environments possible. We do have protocols and policies that staff are trained on and that we respond to from going into a home that does not present any immediate danger to go into a very challenging and difficult situations. Our staff will call the police when they feel it’s appropriate. They will go in pairs when they feel it’s appropriate, or they will go alone when they feel it’s appropriate. In this tragic circumstance, the family we were there to help had a negative response to our presence. We are not avoiding any responsibility. At DCFS we take responsibility for all of our staff as well as the children and families that we serve. We will continue to work that way. We will continue to improve our policies and procedures as best we can. We will continue to work with local law enforcement to help us work with families that need our help, and we are committed to that.”
Wright said that due to the nature of the case, he wasn’t going to answer certain specifics as to not compromise the investigation. Reed was due in court Thursday for a formal arraignment in Sangamon County Court, where he was denied bail and deemed a threat to the public.
According to WICS Newschannel 20, prosecutors said that Sangamon County Coroner Jim Allmon’s autopsy report of Silas revealed “brutal and heinous cruelty” and “pure, unadulterated evil” in her manner of death. The defense maintained Reed was innocent of Silas’ death. Defense attorneys also asked that Reed’s mental fitness be determined before bail be denied. The prosecution argued in court Thursday that statements made by Reed to medical staff and law enforcement established he is a danger to the community. Associate Judge Jennifer Ascher agreed and said the prosecution met the threshold to deny bail. Reed is next due in Sangamon County Court on January 20th.
According to court document obtained by Newschannel 20, Reed allegedly fled the residence in Thayer to St. Mary’s Hospital’s in Decatur where he had other family withalong an adult woman and four of six children. The report says he made multiple incriminating statements to law enforcement and medical staff while being treated for a wound at the hospital and later on at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield.
In the interim, a GoFundMe has been set up for Silas’ family. Silas is survived by her husband, her two-year-old daughter Amelia, and her autistic five-year-old son Ashton. Organizers say the money raised will go toward ABA Therapy and a College Fund for Ashton and Amelia. As of this morning, the page has raised $29,675. To donate, visit this link. Silas’ Family hopes that Deidre’s death can be used for good in improving the system in which DCFS responds to dangerous situations.
Governor J.B. Pritzker in a statement on Tuesday night called Deidre Silas a “Hero” on the front lines of saving children around the state.
The Illinois General Assembly is now reviving measures to stiffen penalties for those that attack DCFS and state social workers in the line duty, a measure that has been talked about several times in the past. Members of ASCFME 31, the union representing DCFS workers, have been meeting with DCFS management for years asking for more safety measures, and they’re hoping this tragedy will help shed light on just how much they’re needed.
Governor JB Pritzker yesterday also announced his support for SB 3070 in the General Assembly that will increase penalties for individuals who commit crimes against Illinois Department of Childhood and Family Services (DCFS) employees. The legislation is known as the Knight-Silas Bill.
The last time a DCFS worker died in the line of duty was September 29, 2017 when Pamela Knight was beaten to death at a home in Milledgeville by Andrew Sucher. Knight was attempting to remove an infant from the home due to an order of protection, related to a pending charge against Sucher of physically abusing a 6-year-old. Despite being unable to secure an escort to the home, Knight decided to risk picking up the child by herself for the safety of the toddler. Sucher was alerted by a Whiteside County sheriff’s deputy that DCFS was coming and met Knight in the driveway by her car, and proceeded to push her down on the concrete driveway and kick her in the head. Knight died 132 days later from severe brain injuries among others. Sucher would later plead guilty to one count of first degree murder. He is currently completing a 21-year sentence in the Illinois Department of Corrections, with no chance for parole. As a result of Knight’s death, former Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation that allowed law enforcement to cross jurisdictions if needed to help out DCFS agents in the field.
The current legislation would grant all DCFS employees the same protections as police, firemen, private security employees, correctional officers, and community policing volunteers. The legislation allows for a person who causes great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement to a DCFS employee to be charged with a more serious Class 1 felony as opposed to a Class 3. Just like other first responders, it is not the extent of the harm or injury that allows the aggravated battery charge to be brought, but rather the status of the victim as a DCFS employee.