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'I will never give up on him' l Remembering Tyler Smith: 3 years later

The parents of 23-year-old Tyler Smith sat down with News 8 as their fight for justice has come with conducting two autopsies after the death of their only child.

GALESBURG, Ill. — It's been just over three years since an Army national guardsman and Western Illinois University (WIU) graduate was found dead in Galesburg.

The parents of 23-year-old Tyler Smith sat down with News 8 as their fight for justice has come with conducting a second autopsy in hopes of learning what happened to their only child.

Tyler ended up dead in Galesburg's Cedar Fork on Sept. 15, 2018. He was lying face down in two inches of water for at least 19 hours, according to officials.

"It's been a long three years," mother Sandy Halsne said. "Tiring, exhausting." 

The report from the pathologist’s office said the cause of death was drowning with an undetermined cause. The report also said there was no evidence of assault and Tyler’s injuries did not contribute to his death.

"Knowing my son and seeing him lay there, that's when I made my promise to my son," Halsne said.

The coroner’s office said Tyler’s injuries are consistent with a fall and Tyler’s Blood Alcohol Concentration was 0.246 percent, which is three times the legal limit.

Tyler went out with friends and was expected to meet a friend in Macomb on the night of Sept. 14.

Smith’s parents said he was last seen walking by a Casey’s in Galesburg along West Street. They said a police car was then seen going the same direction as Tyler, but the department said the officer was just doing a business check.

Nearly 12 hours after he was last seen, Smith’s friend reported him missing. The next evening on Sept. 15, police received a call about a body found in Cedar Fork in Galesburg. Police identified the body as Smith.

According to Smith’s parents, they were not allowed to identify their son. Halsne said she was told the person who ID’d Tyler was a Galesburg police officer and had prior experience with him from drill training but then Halsne found out that officer was never on scene.

"It's just like, the victim never has a voice and if we can't be a voice for the victim, who is," Halsne said.

Halsne said she believes Tyler was restrained and brought down into the canal due to the position of his body, his injuries, and marks on his wrists and ankle. She said the marks on his wrists look similar to handcuff marks and the marks on his ankle look like some sort of stun-gun marks.

RELATED: Timeline of events: The investigation of Tyler Smith's death remains ongoing

In previous reports with WIU student-run TV station NEWS3, former Galesburg police chief David Christensen said the cause of death is not related to any foul play due to Tyler’s injuries not being consistent with homicidal wounds. Although, Christensen said he did not look at all of the pictures from the scene.

"They didn't treat my son like it was their son," father Keith Smith. 

In Sept. 2019, current Galesburg Police Chief Russ Idle told NEWS3, he agrees with the pathologist’s ruling Tyler’s death accidental. Idle also said because Tyler was walking by himself, it could mean the death was accidental.

"He just didn't drown," Halsne said.

Tyler’s parents said they faced dozens of roadblocks as they tried to get information from officials.

"They had made their minds up within an hour that Tyler had drowned and that was it," Halsne said.

Tyler's family said a retired police private investigator found that the department should have filled out a death scene checklist per protocol, but a Galesburg police sergeant confirmed to the investigator that one was not completed.

Halsne and the private investigator also said a crime scene technician with the state police has an office in the same building as the Galesburg Police Department who investigates cases like the death of Tyler Smith but was not called in per protocol.

Halsne said police told her they didn’t see Tyler on surveillance video at the ATM or Casey’s, even after having it on file for three weeks. Police said they watched the video from start to finish and their computers had a malfunction and was not compatible as they looked for Tyler. However, Halsne said Tyler showed up once she met with an officer in person.

Halsne was not able to see or ID Tyler when she begged the night he was found. She said police told her he was evidence. Halsne did not see Tyler until three days after he was found dead.

No subpoena was issued for Tyler’s parents to get pings off of Tyler’s phone.

Officials did not test the water that Tyler was found in.

RELATED: Galesburg police seek answers in death of soldier who drowned in September

Officials bagged Tyler’s hands but did not test for any DNA. Halsne said she was told Tyler would be x-rayed but turned out he was not. She also said no fingerprints were tested either.

Halsne said police did not interview Tyler’s friends in person until two months later, they only did phone interviews within five days of Tyler’s death.

The parent’s said the police department threw away Tyler’s clothes and shoes and released the rest of his belongings within four days.

Halsne said the detective and coroner did not go to Tyler’s autopsy.

Six blunt injuries were listed on Smith’s autopsy, but several other injuries are not but they are seen on pictures.

Former Chief Christensen posted a statement to Facebook following Smith’s autopsy results and said he was last seen leaving a local bar but Halsne said the chief was not able to say who saw Tyler.

Halsne said the detective on Tyler’s case was running for a county board position at the same time of handling the investigation, so she questions if he put more attention and efforts into his campaign than on the investigation.

The family said police said in January 2019 they did not conduct any business checks at Casey’s, but months later, said that they did.

According to Halsne, the pathologist said Tyler was mostly unconscious when he drowned since in two inches of water his blood alcohol content would have woken him up, the family believes he would have to have been knocked unconscious.

Halsne was told only city officials had a key to the lock on the Cedar Fork gate entrance, then she was told only the sanitary department could access it, then she was told no one knew who all had keys. Although, she learned the fire department used a bolt cutter to unlock the gates.

The family questions what happened to the $100 Tyler had that he took out of the ATM. He was only found with $72. Halsne said the detective told her asking the friends about the money was not going to tell anything.

Halsne wants to know why the detective or coroner did not take the time to see her and Keith after Tyler was found. Halsne said she was only given business cards.

The family said they feel the Galesburg Police Department was very disrespectful throughout the process of trying to get answers.

Halsne said no measurements were taken by officials. Halsne also said a railroad spike was near Tyler’s body but officials did not think it could have contributed to the incident.

According to Halsne, police felt a beer can near Tyler's body was not his and would not be much of any value given the elements it was found in so they did not keep it. Halsne said a bag of beer cans were in a bag feet from Tyler’s body but investigators did not think the beer can could have been taken from the bag and placed next to Tyler.

Halsne said the fire department removed items out of Tyler’s pockets before the detective or coroner arrived. Halsne said no documentation was done listing what items came out of what pocket.

She said no CPR was done on her son.

Halsne said the police department refused to look at autopsy photos.

Halsne said after officials moved Tyler’s body, his blood pulled to his back, meaning no fixed lividity, meaning the blood was still flowing.

Tyler had drag marks on his shoe and behind his hand.

Keith Smith felt it was strange for police to ask him where he worked but did not ask Halsne where she worked.

According to Halsne, a detective told her, “You’re just going to have to get over it,” referring to trying to get answers from investigators. She also said her and Keith Smith were told that they “watch too much TV.”

Halsne said it looked like scratches were on both sides of Tyler’s face and that his nose was broken. Scratches were also on his back, a bruise on his neck, knees were scraped, elbows scrapes, Halsne said Tyler’s wrist looked broken.

RELATED: Illinois mom still fighting for answers on two-year anniversary of son Tyler Smith's death

Since Tyler's death... his loved ones are keeping his memory alive.

"All these things in this room, were packed up to be moving to California," Haslne said.

Sandy and Keith showed News 8's Devin Brooks the downstairs in their home which is now a man cave dedicated to Tyler. 

"We've got all of his Army achievement medals," Haslne said. 

Family said he was a man who played hard but worked harder.

"He cared about humanity and that's who made Tyler who he was," Halsne said.

His parents said Tyler lived his 23 years of life to the fullest.

RELATED: Family wants new investigation into Ill. Army National Guardsman’s death

"My only child, I saved a lot of his things," Halsne said. "Here's one that says some day I'll be a policeman and capture the bad guy."

The parents are now hoping one day soon they will have closure.     

"He's my son and I never will give up on him," Halsne said.

Illinois State Police took over the investigation in 2020 after new findings from the private investigator who was hired by the family.

The investigator found Galesburg Police did not follow police protocol and he believes Tyler was attacked.

A second autopsy was done in June 2020, but those results can not yet be released.

Anyone with any information on the case is asked to contact Illinois State Police Special Agent Luke Kuehl at 815-632-4010.

A $100,000 reward is currently being offered for any information leading to an arrest and conviction of who’s responsible for Tyler’s death.

RELATED: Body found in Galesburg identified as man in town for National Guard training