THAYER, Ill. (NEXSTAR) – A 36-year-old child protection specialist with the Department of Children and Family Services was stabbed to death while performing a home visit in central Illinois on Tuesday afternoon. In a statement, the head of the state’s child welfare agency called the case worker’s death “tragic” and identified the victim as Deidre Silas.

Six children, ages 1 to 7 years old, were present in the home in the 300 block of West Elm Street in Thayer, according to Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell. The kids were apparently not injured and are now in DCFS custody.  Officers investigated the stabbing in the small rural town just after 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

Photo: Sagamon County Sheriff’s Department

Police officers from Pawnee, Divernon, Auburn, and deputies from the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office all responded to the scene and had to force their way inside the home where they found the victim’s body, but no sign of the suspect.

Later that night, Decatur police took 32-year-old Benjamin Reed into custody in connection with the stabbing. Officers located him at a hospital in Decatur where he was seeking medical treatment for a minor wound. Sangamon county detectives traveled to Decatur and interviewed Reed about the incident.

“Deidre responded to this call and dedicated herself to the children, families and communities she served, and we will be forever grateful for her work,” DCFS Director Marc Smith said in a statement to WGN Investigates. “She was an incredible person, and her brightness and positivity will be missed not only by her family and friends, but also her second family at DCFS.”

“Today, the State of Illinois mourns the loss of Deidre Silas, a DCFS caseworker and a hero, taken from us in the line of duty. There is no higher calling than the work to keep children and families safe and Deidre lived that value every single day,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Our most vulnerable are safer because she chose to serve. I can think of no more profound legacy. MK and I send our deepest condolences to her colleagues at DCFS, her family, and all who loved her.”

Silas’ murder comes amid continued concern by DCFS employees who say short-staffing has rendered their caseloads overwhelming and in some cases dangerous.

Wednesday morning, Sangamon County State’s Attorney Dan Wright said his office would file charges soon. Preliminary charges included first degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.