Editor note: On July 14, 205, St. Louise Police Sergeant Charles Lowe was ambushed while sitting in his car. He was shot in the chest. His vest saved his life.
The shooting happened at the height of the violence in Ferguson. His wife, Kelli Lowe, was moved to action when she saw protestors outside the shot-up car just hours after the shooting. One of them was holding a sign that read “How does it feel?”.
Kelli Lowe took it personally. “I know you say ‘black lives matter,’ but why does my husband’s black life matter any less just because he wears a uniform?” she asked.
The entire shooting was captured on camera. Two men were caught and charged.
Kelli Lowe had an opportunity to speak before the jury. These were her words.
When I first found out that I would get a chance to make a statement about how my husband’s shooting has impacted our family, I thought: “How would I sit down and make a clear and concise statement that everyone would be able to understand?”
It is not often that as police families, we get a chance to express how it feels to live in a world where officers are often purposely targeted and certainly not respected the way they used to be.
I mean, let’s just look at these last two months; we have had approximately 14 officers lose their lives in the line of duty. That’s staggering considering we aren’t even 60 days into the New Year.
And I can’t even give you the statistic on wounded and injured because those officers don’t seem to land in the regular stats. I believe there to be almost 30 shot already, who we are blessed didn’t fall in the line of duty… but will be permanently scared.
They are sometimes the forgotten, the ones who patch themselves up and return to work or in some cases have to find a new normal because they can’t return to work. In all cases lives are affected and changed forever.
I never thought to plan for something like that happening to our family… but what family does?
In July 2015, I learned just how challenging this can be.
In those early morning hours after receiving a call simply saying, “Ma’am your husband has been involved in an incident, we need you to gather your things and your son and we will send someone for you to bring you to the hospital”.
Yes, that’s really all you get.
You almost always have many more questions, but due to protocol and procedure you aren’t given much more. All I knew was that my husband had been shot just a few short blocks from where we live.
As I headed to the hospital with my 18-month-old son, I could see the crime scene tape had gone on and got a glimpse of the nearly obliterated front window of my husband’s car. You can’t even imagine the sinking feeling of seeing something like that and thinking there is no way he walked away from that okay.
The sinking feeling got worse when I was greeted by a nurse who was in complete tears.
And coming into a room to find my husband laid out on the bed with the ugliest raised bruise to his skin where he had been hit with the bullet, unable to hear very well because his hearing had been affected, and most importantly shaken.
I remember asking the nurse why she was so upset, and she told me she didn’t live far from where the shooting happened and couldn’t believe the amount of violence someone had used.
She was happy my husband was alive, but as a member of the community, just devastated.
He was alive and I was also grateful but still the feeling that began to wrap around me was one of complete and total rage.
Rage that someone had ambushed him in such a manner.
Rage that someone had had such a total disregard for a human life.
Rage that now in our own neighborhood we and other community members would somehow now feel unsafe forever.
I remember as we were getting ready to leave, one of my friends pulled me to the side and said, “Hey just so you know, a protestor has showed up outside of the spot where Charles was shot and you may see him with his sign as you head home.”
I thought… protestor?
“Surely you are kidding – what in the world is he protesting? And sign – what in the world does it say?”
The sign read, “How does it feel?”
What? I could not believe that someone had showed up on a scene like this and actually had the nerve to be taunting the officers who were on the scene. And much worse engaging people as they went by, including our family members who had arrived to comfort my husband.
I thought this could not possibly be happening. It was not till later that I realized that this was just a warning shot of what was to come all across the nation.
Just one year later, we faced Dallas and then Baton Rouge and then more officers in our own state Mike Flamion, Blake Snyder, and Tom Lake …the list goes on and on.
As for our family, we were now faced with learning to live a new normal. One where even the simplest things like getting ice cream or a cupcake in our own neighborhood became one of full-on anxiety for my husband.
How do you just casually move around a place where you were shot? Yes… shot.
Too often because of movies and television shows, we think that someone just pops back up after taking a bullet in a Kevlar vest. Sure, we are thankful that the bullet did not pierce any vital organs.
However he still has bruise that causes him pain and sometimes even after lifting our son or playing with him he complains of pains on that side where he was hit.
Our doctor says there is no remedy for that, that’s something that will last forever. He has suffered trauma. Not just trauma physically, but even though he has returned to work it still comes with its challenges.
I remember it took about a month before he felt comfortable at work.
And it has taken two years for him to be able to comfortably return to the Central West End. He cannot be blocked in by cars and he most certainly has become more vigilant.
I’m proud that he was able to bounce back and return to work, but he most certainly will never be the same. Our whole family has been affected by this shooting. I think any time word of an officer being shot is put out in the media we both receive calls from the whole family just making sure it isn’t Charles.
None of us will be the same!
I have personally had to overcome so much anger. There are so many things that are now asked of our officers that we as families never get to speak on. Too often, the feelings of officers families are not addressed until one of them falls in the line of duty or when they have an incident like this one.
This process here has taken two years. Two years of no closure or resolution. I can’t help but think we need to do better. How hard is to say to others “trust the process as a law enforcement family”… and the process hasn’t been good to you?
Now I must address the last elephant in the room.
In this world we live in with all the questions about how young black men interact with the police and vice versa, you can’t imagine what it’s like to be in our position.
Here we have a black officer – one who has been a good community servant, who returned home from college to serve the community he grew up in.
Who has worked with at-risk youth.
Who has not abandoned life in the City.
And such a violent act happens to him.
I remember looking at pictures taken just hours before my husband was shot of him and my young son playing in the water down in the City Garden.
Perhaps one of my favorite pictures he has my son by the hand and is leading him along the path and instructing him how to safely walk and play there.
The beauty of that picture is him having a father to tell him, “son walk this way and its okay, you may fall or encounter obstacles but you can make it and I will be there to guide you.”
Who would know just hours later that he would almost lose his father, his guide?
Often when we are talking about the things that plague our communities, we speak of the loss of fathers, the lack of guidance, and loss of hope.
We speak of losing our young people to violence and crime.
I can’t help but think that on that early July morning, if my son had lost his father, what kind of loss would we be talking about today? What would I feel as a mother now having to raise my African American son without his example…without his father?
It is very hard for us, especially in the atmosphere of protest as an African American family, to be both black and blue. We understand what is at stake, perhaps more than others since my husband’s incident.
It has been hard on us. On the very day after his incident, there was clergy all over the television declaring there must be an end to violence wreaked upon African American men but not in one place did I hear my husband’s incident mentioned.
Nor in the weeks to come amongst the politicians. We wondered… did HIS life matter? We sometimes still do.
We most certainly understand the protest. We understand frustration and anger. We feel it as well.
I believe we have forgotten that officers are humans in this country. I believe that there must be real consequences for actions especially violent ones towards our officers. It is important that we set the tone that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.
I believe that we must show that we value those who protect and serve us. Every day my husband, still puts his badge and gun on and steps out to serve the citizens of this city and to uphold the law.
I’m hoping that the law will do the same for us!
Editor Note: Two men were later found guilty.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Christopher McGraugh sentenced Dale “Butch” Wolford to 30 years in prison and Edward J. Davis, the driver, to 25 years for the July 14, 2015, attack on Sgt. Charles Lowe.
Police have described the shooting as an unprovoked ambush on Lowe, but neither jury believed Wolford and Davis targeted Lowe because he is a police officer.