By Betsy Lopez Fritscher
Posted Jan 26, 2009 @ 12:38 AM
Last update Jan 26, 2009 @ 09:29 AM
Family and friends say when Suzette “Sue” Babler pointed an unloaded Smith and Wesson .357 at a Loves Park police officer Saturday afternoon, she was looking for a way out.
Babler, 53, was shot and killed by the police officer outside of the home she shared with her husband, Kirby, whom she married in 2006.
“She was hurting,” said Kirby. “I think she was committing suicide by cop … The gun was unloaded and she wouldn’t hurt anybody. I wouldn’t give her the bullets.”
Loves Park police had arrested Sue earlier in the day. She was charged with battery, aggravated assault and criminal damage to property after a fight with a Loves Park woman.
Kirby said the fight had to do with a loan the Bablers’ cosigned but the woman had stopped paying. Sue was taken to jail.
“It was the straw that snapped her,” Kirby said. “She went over there and pulled her hair, kicked her and they tussled. Then she came back here and the woman called the cops.”
Kirby believes that’s when his wife started on the downward spiral that would end in her death a few hours later.
A friend, Amy Sagona, bailed Sue out of jail. Once home, however, Sue headed into a room where her husband kept three guns, including his grandmother’s hunting rifle.
“That was the first time I had ever seen her touch a gun,” Kirby said. He said he was able to get one weapon away from her, but she got a second. Kirby said the guns in the home were not loaded and Sue did not know where he kept the bullets.
Kirby, who uses a wheelchair to get around, then said he called a neighbor to help. The neighbor called police.
“Sue went out to the balcony to get away, jumped off and came back inside the house,” Kirby said. “We wrestled with her and that’s when the ambulance and the cops came … I was worried about her falling and hurting her back when she ran back into the room and got the third gun.”
He said he was going toward the front door to tell the police that Sue was distraught, possibly suicidal, but the gun was not loaded. The police met her at the back door. There wasn’t time to get his warning out, he said.
“She ran out the back door and a cop chased her out the back and she got to the gate and turned and pointed the gun at him,” Kirby recalled. “And he killed her.”
Police say the officer, who has been put on paid administrative leave, ordered Sue to drop the weapon. When she didn’t comply, the officer fired. Loves Park Deputy police Chief Jim Puckett confirmed that Sue’s gun was not loaded.
Sue’s friends say she was a giving person who liked to help others. She worked with neighbors to forge the Martin Shorewood Neighborhood Association in 2006 and was the head of the group, encouraging police enforcement at the parks.
But close friends also said that Sue suffered from depression and had been taking anti-depressants for some time.
“It’s important to emphasize that she brought extra police to the area to help protect the neighborhood that is in some ways turning on her now and calling her a crazy woman,” said Sagona, a close friend, who was disgusted by some of the talk she had been hearing around town since her friend’s death.
“Sue was the one that made the neighborhood’s park safe. She was the most kind-hearted person with a giggle. You would have never known she was depressed because she hid it well … With all my heart, I can tell you she never would have hurt anybody at that point but herself.”
Sagona’s oldest daughter, Jamie Herbert, said she’d remember Sue for the good she had done and not her final day in turbulence.
“She was goofy and silly and kind and just gave and gave,” Herbert said, while telling of how the Bablers lent her $100 when she was going through a financial rough patch. “And in the end, she just gave so much and people never gave back to her. It’s sad.”
Sue most recently worked as a patient representative in the admitting department at Rockford Memorial Hospital, said Westor Wouri, director of marketing and public relations for the hospital.
“We are obviously saddened by the loss, and our hearts go out to her family,” Wouri said.
Karen Baxter, next-door neighbor and close friend of the couple, said she’d miss Sue, but would not harbor ill feelings toward the Police Department for her killing.
“I can’t judge anybody,” she said. “I’m sure the police officer would never want to take somebody’s life, especially after finding out the circumstances surrounding her. Something happened, something triggered something deep within her.
“I don’t want her to be remembered as someone who was a lunatic, because she wasn’t. She was a good person who loved her son; she was selfless.”
Kirby said he recognizes that the officer who shot and killed his wife was doing his job. Kirby will begin making funeral and cremation arrangements today.
Staff writer Betsy López Fritscher can be reached at email@example.com or at 815-987-1377.