The 3 p.m. shift change at the Columbia Police Department was unnaturally quiet on Thursday, as police starting or ending their shifts learned that fellow officer Molly Bowden had died earlier that day.
“It is something we have all braced ourselves for,” Capt. Sam Hargadine said. “And while we hoped for the best, we are now faced with dealing with it.”
Bowden was shot three times in the neck and shoulders on Jan. 10 during a traffic stop.
She remained in critical condition for four weeks. In that time, dozens of law enforcement officials from throughout the city, county and state kept a vigil at the hospital. Police and a family spokesman often said they were optimistic about Bowden’s chances for recovery. But roughly two weeks ago, she developed a fever, and on Jan. 30, she was diagnosed with an infection.
“For the last several days, her condition was worsening,” Police Chief Randy Boehm said Thursday night from his office at the Columbia Police Department. “Although none of us wanted to see this day, we knew it was a possibility, and I think to some extent, the way she fought and hung on to life gave us all the ability to prepare for this day.”
Boehm had been with the family all week at their home, Hargadine said.
“We certainly feel like we are a family here at the Columbia Police Department,” Boehm said. “Losing a fellow officer is certainly like losing a family member.”
In mid-afternoon, the department’s offices were silent as officers and administrators grappled with the news they had received at 1:30 p.m. Outside, officers lowered the flag to half-staff in honor of Bowden, the first Columbia police officer to die in the line of duty. As the day wore on, flags were lowered all around Columbia.
Counselors were on hand to talk with officers who were close to Bowden and her husband, Corey, also a Columbia police officer. Several officers had taken advantage of the opportunity, Hargadine said; no one was immune from the feeling of loss.
“I can keep focused when I am busy,” Hargadine said, his eyes red-rimmed. “But when I go back to my office by myself, I might lose it. It’s tough for all of us.”
MU Police Chief Jack Watring said the impact of Bowden’s death could also be felt within his department on Thursday afternoon. Bowden worked as an MU police officer for 13 months before joining the Columbia Police Department in 2002.
“We’re all just heartbroken over the whole thing,” Watring said. “We still have several people working here who worked here when Molly did.”
Watring said he notified his staff of Bowden’s death via e-mail Thursday afternoon and also reminded them about the university’s counseling services.
Police officers know that being injured and possibly dying is part of the job, Watring said, but that does not make the worst-case scenario any easier when it becomes reality. “It’s a terribly tragic situation,” he said. “It’s one of those situations where you think it’ll never happen to you.”
He said a young MU Police officer resigned about a week after Bowden was shot because of worries related to the Jan. 10 incident.
On Jan. 10, police said, Bowden pulled over Richard Evans at the corner of Nifong and Forum boulevards, although the reason for the stop remains unknown.
As recorded by the camera in her patrol car, Bowden was talking with Evans as he sat in his car when he pulled a gun and shot at her once, missing her. As she attempted to take cover behind his car, Evans pursued her and fired again, hitting her once. Police said Evans then stood over Bowden and fired two more times just outside the frame of the camera.
Evans sped off and abandoned his car less than a mile away. Police said he then walked six miles to his parents’ home in the Park De Ville neighborhood.
When Evans was spotted walking up the street near his parents’ home on Orleans Court, officer Curtis Brown attempted to apprehend him, police said. Evans managed to shoot Brown once in the right biceps before he turned the gun on himself. Evans died later that day at University Hospital.
Brown would not comment on Bowden’s death on Thursday.
Kathryn Evans, Richard Evans’ mother, said Thursday afternoon that she didn’t know how she could say anything that would help Bowden’s family and friends deal with the loss.
“There’s nothing that we can say to ease their pain,” Kathryn Evans said. “We’ll just let them grieve.”
Although the grieving process is difficult, Boehm said no one in the department had asked to go home.
“We are professionals.” Boehm said. “So, we will continue to do our jobs as we begin the preparations for the funeral service to pay our last respects.”
Boehm said he was meeting this morning with family members and Michael Burt, the minister of Bowden’s church, to help arrange the service.
“We will, as a department, be involved with the service,” Boehm said. “We have a number of things we can do and would like to do, but the family’s wishes are what come first.”
Officer Todd Smith, who organized last week’s Officer Down Fund benefit at Déjà Vu comedy club said protocol for a police funeral was “all new territory for our department.”
“If her family wants a big funeral, then the department will do that,” he said. “We will respect their wishes.”
Missourian reporters Joe Meyer, Nigel Duara and Sabrina Guenther contributed to this report.