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SPRINGFIELD - Family and comrades gathered in Springfield on Thursday to celebrate the life of fallen FBI agent Robert Hardesty of Normal at the grand opening of a new district field office.

People watched the flags hoisted over the new $22 million facility and a 21-gun salute via live video feed projected onto a brick wall inside the structure's parking garage. The ceremony christening the Robert R. Hardesty Building was moved indoors to keep people out of the cold.

"You have to understand how bittersweet this is for us to celebrate a new beginning for the Springfield division, but it also marks a tragic ending for Special Agent Robert Hardesty," Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert S. Mueller III said.

The building, on Springfield's south side, provides updated security and communications as well as makes room for a computer forensics facility, photo lab and an evidence processing facility.

Hardesty died of injuries he suffered during a May training exercise in Virginia. Hardesty, a member of the Springfield FBI Special Weapons and Tactics team, fell from the wing of an airplane while practicing entry techniques.

Toni Hardesty, the agent's wife of 13 years, said the naming ceremony honored a humble man.

"He would say, ?~Don't do that.' He would just do something to laugh it off," she said. "He was very humble. I'm so proud of him. I'm not as humble as he was."

The agent also left behind two daughters.

"I'm just trying to get through the steps of grieving," Toni Hardesty said. "I wake up every day and God stands by me every day. Although half of me is gone, the other half of me knows that I have two children and that I must carry on and make them happy."

Hardesty joined the FBI in 2001 and was stationed in Normal. Before joining the bureau, Hardesty spent six years with the Indiana State Excise Police and eight years with the Porter County, Ind., Sheriff's Department. Members of the Porter County SWAT team, of which Hardesty was a founding member, also attended the ceremony.

"I now see why Rob so desperately wanted to work for the FBI. He spent years filling out applications," Toni Hardesty said. "I would sit at the typewriter and help him."

"He always considered the FBI the ultimate law enforcement agency in the world," she said. "It was a dream. For 10 years, he worked at it."

The Springfield office houses 72 agents and 66 support staffers. It serves 84 of Illinois' 102 counties, with satellite offices in Carbondale, Champaign, Decatur, Effingham, Fairview Heights, Moline, Normal and Peoria.


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