State police still investigating death of county man


ROCHELLE — The Nov. 10 episode of the Investigation Discovery channel’s “Still a Mystery” TV show was hard to watch for Sandy Halsne and Keith Smith. 

The episode covered the death of the Rochelle couple’s son, 23-year-old Tyler Smith. Tyler, a graduate of Rochelle Township High School and Western Illinois University, was found dead on Sept. 15, 2018 in Cedar Fork Creek in Galesburg. He was a in the Army National Guard and was in the area at the time for drill training. 

After the Galesburg Police Department initiated the investigation into Smith’s death and ruled it accidental from drowning, the Illinois State Police Division of Criminal Investigation got involved in Sept. 2020 and launched an investigation into Tyler’s case that is still ongoing.  

The Nov. 10 show brought back “a lot of raw emotions” for Halsne and Smith. The producers of the show filmed at the couple’s home for a day 10 months ago. 

“I think I had to watch it a couple of times to take it all in,” Halsne said. “Because we hadn't seen it. It was new to us like everybody else. We just didn't know how they were going to put it together. But it was hard. We watched it together, just Keith and I. We didn't want anybody else around. We just wanted to be together and watch it."

Halsne said she thought the show, which aired for a half hour, didn’t have the time to cover what her family has been through in the past three years. She and Smith have been working over that time to find answers about what happened to their son. 

Tyler’s mother said last week that she speaks to the state police task force investigating her son’s case “at least weekly.” 

“They keep the lines of communication open,” Halsne said. “That's huge for a family that doesn't know what's going on. We have tons of leads and they're going through every one of them and looking into them. With what they were left with, I feel like they've done a really good job and they've been very good to us."

Halsne said she and Smith’s biggest goal since the beginning is to find out what happened to their son. They want to know why it happened and if others were involved, they want them to be held accountable with an arrest and conviction. 

"We're not going to give up,” Halsne said. “I'm in it for the long haul until the good Lord takes me, if it takes that long. We both are. I'm confident at some point the truth is going to come out."

Before Sept. 2018, Tyler planned to go to the San Jose Police Academy in California. He had aspirations of being a canine officer and DEA agent. 

With his law enforcement goals, Halsne often wonders how Tyler would handle the situation she’s in. She thinks about how she and Keith would be going out to California to see him if he were still alive. 

"He worked really hard to get where he was at and it's frustrating,” Halsne said. “He was a hard worker. I always wonder why it happened to him. It's not my place to say why. But there's a purpose. Something good has to come from this. I don't know what. But you have to think that way to make it through the day."

In late 2018, Halsne started a Facebook page called Justice For Tyler Smith dedicated to finding answers about her son. The page now has over 11,000 followers. She said it’s helped “turn the wheels” on getting more eyes on Tyler’s case. 

Halsne said after the “Still a Mystery” show aired she had “tons” of people reach out to her and the Facebook page with messages of support. 

“And I didn’t even know the people that reached out,” Halsne said. “They said they're sorry for our loss and that they'll continue to follow his case and do what they can to help. It's getting out there more. People are talking about it. And that's what we need. We need the public eye on it. It just takes that one person to say, 'Oh my gosh. I saw that happen. But I didn't think anything of it.'"

The uncertainty surrounding Tyler’s death has complicated the grief process for his family, Halsne said. She doesn’t believe they’ve had the chance to grieve yet and won’t be until they find answers.  

“We never thought our son would be going off to drill and never coming home again,” Halsne said. “You see things like that on TV, just like we were last week. It can happen. And it happened to the wrong person. It's frustrating, but we just keep pushing. We've hit so many roadblocks. But you just keep pushing to find out. 

‘Because I know my son would do that for me."