Less than three miles from the desk where she worked for seven years, Cristy Campbell drove her SUV into a lake with her infant son in the backseat.
Barbara Thomas Johnson, Campbell’s boss, heard about the car in the lake Thursday morning. She didn’t want to believe it.
“She was an awesome mom,” Johnson said. “She loved her kids. She worked very hard for them.”
The body of Campbell, 32, was found in Silver Lake near Highland on Thursday afternoon, hours after her infant son was pulled from the icy water and resuscitated by a paramedic. Campbell’s husband, Justin Campbell, was shot in the head at the home they shared with their seven children. The home was burning as Cristy Campbell’s Nissan Armada went into the lake.
The baby rescued from the lake and the other six children who were in the house survived.
Johnson said Campbell was a great mother, heavily involved in the children’s schooling and activities. Campbell went to their football games, wrestling matches and cheerleading practices. The mother would alter her work schedule if there was a conflict. She made their doctor and dentist appointments, trying to schedule them all the same day so she wouldn’t miss too much work. One of the children, a girl, had asthma, so Campbell cleaned religiously.
“She was so organized,” Johnson said. “The kids only had so many outfits, so she would plan out the week and do laundry along the way so she wasn’t overwhelmed. She was a ball of fire.”
She was so organized. The kids only had so many outfits, so she would plan out the week and do laundry along the way so she wasn’t overwhelmed. She was a ball of fire.
Barbara Thomas Johnson
She worked hard, Johnson said, working not only the full-time job handling accounting and paperwork at BT Transport near Highland. She also worked at a St. Louis casino.
After years of working at fast-food restaurants, Cristy Campbell earned a bachelor’s degree online in business, Johnson said, and came to work for the Johnsons.
It wasn’t long before they developed a relationship much more than boss-employee.
“Her children are like my grandchildren. We would go to her house,” Johnson said, crying as she looked at Campbell’s desk with crayon drawings and pictures of her children.
Justin Campbell at one point left Christy Campbell and the kids to work at an Applebee’s restaurant in Louisiana. She filed for divorce in 2012. Things were tough financially, Johnson said. The water bill was $800 past-due. Justin Campbell wrote a check but it bounced, according to an order of protection filed by Cristy Campbell.
It was the summer of 2012. And it was hot. Cristy Campbell couldn’t afford the air-conditioning for the house on Dogwood Lane. She turned on fans, Johnson said, and told the kids she was sorry.
The Johnsons helped out, buying Campbell a second-hand washer and dryer and giving her a kitchen table so the kids would have a place to eat.
“But she would never ask,” Johnson said. “We would go to her house and notice things and just pitch in.”
Justin Campbell didn’t come back to finalize the divorce. The judgment to end their six-year marriage was done in his absence. He was awarded visitation with the kids; alternating weekends with the five oldest children, then ages 9, 8, 6, 3 and 2. Justin Campbell would also get two hours every other Saturday with his infant son.
“She took those kids to Louisiana to see him,” Johnson said. “It was important to her that they have their father in their lives.”
She took those kids to Louisiana to see him. It was important to her that they have their father in their lives.
Barbara Thomas Johnson
In 2014, Cristy Campbell asked the court that Justin Campbell’s visits with the children be supervised, after the two oldest boys said their father choked and pinched them. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services found the boys had been abused, said agency spokeswoman Veronica Resa, but did not implement a safety plan because Justin Campbell resided outside of the home.
“He was not supposed to have contact with the children,” Resa said.
But Justin Campbell did come back, and moved back into the house on Dogwood Lane.
Johnson didn’t want to comment on the abuse allegations.
Cristy Campbell was tiny, said Johnson, adding “she was small enough to fit in your pocket.”
The pregnancies came easily.
“She coughed and she got pregnant,” Johnson said.
And Cristy Campbell was committed to raising her children. She suffered a miscarriage while working at the trucking firm, and though she had six children at the time, Johnson remembered that Cristy Campbell took it hard.
“She would just cry and cry, and I would hold her,” Johnson said.
When she delivered a baby boy in December, Cristy Campbell returned to work in eight weeks. Every day, she would drive from Highland to Glen Carbon on her lunch hour to nurse the baby, Johnson said.
“She did everything for those kids,” Johnson said.
Campbell saved money to buy the house on Dogwood Lane, a home formerly owned by her brother. She worked hard to get it, so Johnson was surprised when she heard Cristy Campbell was accused of setting it on fire.
This past summer, Cristy Campbell took the kids to Florida to go to the beach, Johnson said. It was their first family vacation. The hotel wasn’t that nice, Campbell told Johnson, but they were going to the beach for quality family time.
“Cristy wanted to keep her family together,” Johnson said. “That’s what was important to her.”