CHICAGO – An autopsy was to be done today on the Sterling DCFS worker severely beaten Sept. 29 while picking up a child in Milledgeville.
Pamela Sue Knight was pronounced dead at 8:15 Thursday morning at a Chicago hospital, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office said.
She was 59.
Knight, of Dixon, was being treated at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, but was transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital on Feb. 4 for emergency surgery, her family said in a post on CaringBridge.org.
The reason for the surgery was not specified. A preliminary cause of death was not released, pending autopsy results.
Knight still was in intensive care at Northwestern at the time of her death, said Kathy Lane, president of AFSCME Local 448 and a friend of the family.
Before the surgery, Knight, who no longer could speak, was working with therapists to communicate using eye movements, and was able to answer questions that way. She also was undergoing physical therapy to help her regain movement in her arms and legs.
In anticipation of her eventual return home, her husband, Don Knight, did extensive modifications to their house, at a cost in excess of $70,000, he said last month.
Her accused attacker, Andrew Sucher, 25, of Rock Falls, was indicted Dec. 7 on charges of attempted first-degree murder, which carries at least 6 to 30 years in prison, aggravated battery causing great bodily harm, and aggravated battery of a state employee, each of which carries 2 to 5 years in prison. He is being held at Stephenson County Jail on $275,000 bond.
Carroll County State’s Attorney Scott Brinkmeier could not be reached for comment on whether or when those charges would be increased.
The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Sucher is accused of kicking Knight in the head so severely that he fractured her skull, causing permanent brain damage that also led to her extensive physical disabilities. She was in a coma for about 2 months.
Knight had gone to Sucher’s home first, with a police escort, to take a 2-year-old child into protective custody.
When no one was there, she went to his parents’ home in Milledgeville, which is in another police jurisdiction. She did not ask for assistance from them, Milledgeville police Chief Jim Haag said at the time.
She was attacked shortly after she got out of her car around 5:45 p.m. Sucher’s mother called 911 and another relative threw himself over Knight to protect her.
Knight was a veteran of her field. Before coming to work for the Department of Children and Family Services nearly 12 years ago, she was a welfare specialist for Lutheran Social Services for about 2 decades, after studying family social services at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
Ironically, after years of working child protective services for DCFS, she had taken on new duties that were “much, much safer,” inspecting daycares, but came back to the division in June 2016 because it was short-handed and “she wanted to help. ... She loved doing child protection,” Lane said in September.
“Frontline staff are first responders to children and families in crisis, and Pamela’s work has always set an example for all of us who work to protect children,” BJ Walker, acting director of the Department of Children and Family Services, said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
“... Pamela’s work has always set an example for all of us who work to protect children ... We are forever grateful for her work to help children and families in Illinois.”
The agency is providing counseling support to Sterling-area staff “to assist them in dealing with this tragic loss,” Walker said.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by their daughter, Jennifer Hollenbeck.
Preston Schilling Funeral Home in Dixon is handling arrangements.
Lane asks people to “keep the family in your prayers,” and to honor Pam’s memory by recognizing her devotion and dedication to her job, and the devotion and dedication of all those who work for the DCFS.
“We’re there to help children, we’re not there to wreck families or take their children away forever,” Lane said Thursday. “We’re the first responders. We’re there to help people, we’re not there to cause harm. Our mission is to help everyone, and it’s important for people to know that.”