Murder victim Caleb Witty's character praised as investigation passes one year [Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.]By Huey Freeman, Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Aug. 19--DECATUR -- Caleb Witty, a 17-year-old senior, was one semester away from graduating from Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, Colo.
He was in Decatur for a short visit when he went to the carnival with his 14-year-old sister on the opening night of Decatur Celebration.
Caleb, a 6-foot-4-inch, 230-pounder with a cheerful disposition, was planning to fly back home five days later.
As Caleb and his sister were walking home on Johns Avenue, just east of 22nd Street, two black males approached them. They demanded money. Caleb and his sister had already spent their money at the carnival and a fast-food restaurant.
One of the thugs pistol-whipped Caleb. At Caleb's urging, his sister ran toward her nearby home. As the gunman pointed the gun toward his sister, Caleb stepped between the thugs and his sister, according to police.
The gunman then shot Caleb to death.
That horrific event occurred a little more than one year ago, on Aug. 4, 2011.
The police have been searching for Caleb's murderer ever since. A $6,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the killer's arrest.
Police have recently been saying that they are hopeful.
"Decatur police detectives and the Macon County State's Attorney's Office continue with the process to solve the murder of Caleb Witty," said David Dickerson, deputy chief of criminal investigations. "Considerable effort has been invested into this case and that will continue. Detectives have been in consultation with attorneys from the state's attorney's office this week and remain optimistic."
Meanwhile, the death of Caleb has left a hole in the hearts of his friends and family members, who described him as a kind-hearted, faith-filled young man who enjoyed playing cards and playing the guitar.
Stephen Blythe, 18, a recent graduate of Eisenhower High School, said he and
Caleb became friends as sophomores, when they were members of the anime club, fans of a Japanese style of animation. They later became as close as brothers.
Caleb was a frequent guest at the Blythe home on East Wood Street, where Blythe lives with his mother, Teresa, and 19-year-old sister, Savannah. In the living room there are many reminders of Caleb, including 10 photos of him hanging on a wall, the black fedora he often wore sitting on the mantel and one of his guitars standing on the floor.
On the night he was murdered, Caleb was planning to go to the Blythe house after he walked his sister home.
"I got a text from him at 11:30," Blythe recalled. "He had a little spending money and he was taking his sister to eat."
That was about a half-hour before the shooting occurred.
Shortly before Caleb headed for the carnival, he stopped by the Blythe house. The plan was for Stephen Blythe to go downtown with Caleb and his sister.
"Before he got here, I tried to sleep off my stomachache, but it wouldn't go away," Blythe said. "So I decided to stay home."
After he received the text sent from a McDonald's several hours later, Blythe expected Caleb to arrive at any moment. By then, Blythe was feeling better. The two friends planned to watch movies together.
Instead police officers appeared on their porch.
As Stephen and Teresa Blythe remember it, the officers told them that Caleb had been shot. When they asked if he was OK, an officer told them that he had died. The officers stayed at their home for about 90 minutes, asking many questions, including whether they knew if Caleb had any enemies.
"I couldn't think of anyone," Teresa Blythe said.
"I couldn't think of people that he actually made mad," Stephen Blythe said.
Caleb's father, Richard Kelsey, received a text message from Caleb about 10 p.m. that night, as he was walking toward the carnival.
He sent him a message: I love you Dad.
"We were making plans for the next day," said Kelsey, 38, during an interview in his home in Pana. Kelsey moved from Decatur to the smaller town after he lost his son. "We were going to go to Decatur Celebration together the next day."
Kelsey said it was not unusual for Caleb, a lovable young man with a good sense of humor, to stand up for others. He recalled that the few fights he had fought during his short life involved standing up for his friends.
Caleb moved to Colorado with his father during his junior year. They stayed at the home of Caleb's uncle, his mother's brother. Kelsey returned to Decatur a short time later, but Caleb decided to stay in Colorado until he graduated.
During his visit to Decatur last summer, Caleb alternately stayed at the homes of his mother and father. He was walking toward his mother's home at the time of the shooting. His mother later moved to Michigan.
Caleb did not have any definite plans after completing high school, his father said. He talked about moving back to Decatur and possibly taking classes in computer programming and art.
"He was good at video game design," Kelsey said. "He was really interested in doing something like that. He was continuing to get better at playing the guitar, too.
"Who knows what he would have ended up doing? He might have become a preacher, or something to do with God. He deeply believed in God. He talked about doing some kind of missionary work."
Kelsey said his son was especially adept at making friends.
"Normally, when he had friends, they became good friends," Caleb's father said. "He didn't judge anybody. He was friends with a kid who was deaf and going blind. Caleb would go over to his house and be friends with him."
David Gerst, 18, a close friend of Caleb's, said one reason he had so many friends was because he had a positive attitude toward people.
"He didn't put people down," Gerst said.
Caleb was passionate about whatever he was interested in; his voice would become high-pitched when he would talk excitedly about something.
"He cared about what everybody's problems were," Gerst said. "Everything was important to him about his friends."
During Caleb's final visit to Decatur, Gerst did not get a chance to see him because they did not have each other's phone numbers. Gerst said if they had been in touch, he would have gone with Caleb and his sister to Decatur Celebration that night and driven them in his car.
"I was kind of upset," Gerst said. "I loved hanging out with Caleb. I didn't think that if I didn't see him that night, I may never see him again."
Stephen Blythe said Caleb had a gift for finding something to like about anyone he met.
Blythe said the killer was cold-hearted and stupid to kill an unarmed 17-year-old who had no money.
"Any life is precious," Blythe said. "But someone who would do anything to help anybody, why would you take that life off of this Earth?"
Caleb's father said he thinks about him every day and is proud of how he lived and died.
"He was brave," Kelsey said. "When somebody pulls a gun and you know it's going to kill you and you step out in front of it to save somebody, that's character. That's a hero."
Kelsey said it is important to him that the killer is caught.
"I just wish I had my son back," Kelsey said. "I would love to see him grow up and see what he could have been. He definitely was a light. A lot of people cared about him. I think he would have been a positive influence in a lot of people's lives."
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