'A shining star': Death of Springfield community organizer mourned


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Jul 29, 2023

'A shining star': Death of Springfield community organizer mourned

The Springfield Police Department, U.S. Marshals and other law enforcement groups are on the lookout for a man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend at her home Tuesday night, as friends and collegues

The Springfield Police Department, U.S. Marshals and other law enforcement groups are on the lookout for a man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend at her home Tuesday night, as friends and collegues mourned the loss of a local community organizer with a bright future.

Emma Shafer, 24, of Springfield, was found dead late Tuesday evening after she was allegedly stabbed in her home in the 1000 block of South Eighth Street.

Shafer served as an activist and community organizer for several local organizations, including the Faith Coalition for the Common Good, where she was a community and digital organizer. She also worked as a committee clerk for the Illinois House of Representatives, a shelter worker at Contact Ministries, a community development intern with Downtown Springfield Inc. and an intern with U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth's office.

She also volunteered for the Sierra Club Sangamon Valley Group, where she had recently been appointed a membership chair and the Resistor Sisterhood, where she served on their racial equity task force and Leadership Council.

SPD said that Sangamon County State's Attorney Dan Wright issued a warrant for the arrest of Gabriel P. Calixto (Gabriel Calixto Pichardo), 25, on three counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated domestic battery for his alleged role in the stabbing. Bond was set at $3 million.

Calixto is a former Bethalto resident.

Calixto pleaded guilty to kidnapping in a 2018 Madison County case involving a former girlfriend. He was sentenced to six years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

The kidnapping conviction was later vacated, and he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of unlawful restraint, was resentenced to time served and was released on October 30, 2020.

On May 4, 2021, Calixto was arrested on a federal charge of improper entry.

According claims in federal records, Calixto was brought to the U.S. at age 5 by his mother who was fleeing abuse. He was granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals ("DACA") status at age 15, but it expired in May 2019.

Sangamon County Coroner Jim Allmon identified Shafer as the deceased Thursday afternoon, after an autopsy had been conducted in the morning. Allmon confirmed that she died of multiple sharp force injuries.

Those who worked with Shafer in the activist field reacted with deep emotions to the announcement of her death Thursday, with the Resister Sisterhood saying in a statement released earlier Thursday that she was someone committed to building a community of love and respect for all.

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"Emma was always such a joy to be around," the Sisters said. "She always seemed like she was 'Walking on Sunshine' and had a big smile on her face for everyone. She was a positive source of energy and love. Emma and Resistor Sister Kim (Riddle) were best friends, together constantly and always looking to fight the good fight. We all loved her like family.

"Emma hadn’t been an 'official' Resistor Sister and part of our Leadership Council for long, but we all loved her and knew the light she carried would reach far and wide. We plan to continue doing Emma’s good work."

The Rev. Martin Woulfe, a pastor with the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Congregation, who worked with Shafer during their time with the Faith Coalition, remembered her as a spirited activist with a joy and passion for what she did. He said that many in the community had a sense of grief upon hearing of Shafer's tragic passing.

"Those who knew her always assumed she was destined for greatness," said Woulfe, president of the Faith Coalition's board. "She was going to move into a rare strata of accomplishment. She was only 24 (but) the last several years cemented what an outstanding leader she was. She motivated people; people were attracted to her and to her causes. She was one of those splendid individuals where when you met her, you knew she was a friend and a very welcoming, gracious, loving soul.

"The sense of loss and grief for so many of us is palpable. I think it will be a long time before that grief lifts from our hearts."

Woulfe and Shafer had known each other dating back to Shafer's childhood, when she was a student at Iles School with Woulfe's daughter. Woulfe was proud of the way that he was able to track her continued growth through the years from gifted child to rising star.

"I've known Emma since she was a little girl," Woulfe said. "It was such a pleasure to watch into an amazing, confident individual."

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Nick Dodson, a fellow community organizer with the Sangamon Valley Sierra Club, said that Shafer was someone who could make people believe in the power of change just by being close to her.

"To know Emma was to love her," Dodson said. "Emma was the kind of person that made you be the most authentic version of yourself when you were sharing space with her. She made everything seem like a possibility that the world could change tomorrow if we just kept trying."

Dodson said that Shafer's leadership helped him to become a better organizer, with long sessions discussing how to combat the Navigator CO2 pipeline planned to cross through Sangamon County ongoing just days before her death.

"She was a shining star in a world that sometimes seems very dark," Dodson said.

A vigil is being planned to honor Shafer at the Old State Capitol Plaza at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. It will be held at First Presbyterian Church, 321 S. Seventh St., in case of inclement weather. Trauma therapists from SIU Medicine Survivor Recovery Center will be available.

Those with any knowledge of Calixto's whereabouts or other information relating to the case are being asked to contact SPD at (217) 788-8311 or Sangamon/Menard County CrimeStoppers at (217) 788-8427.