To hear friends describe her, Columbia police Officer Molly Suzanne Bowden was as tough as nails and as gentle as God’s touch.
“When I think of Molly, it always brings a smile to my face, as I think of her constant smile with the little extra bit of life that so few seem to know,” said W.A. Locke III, an MU ROTC instructor who taught Bowden.
Mrs. Bowden died Thursday, Feb. 10, 2005, at University Hospital of cranial meningitis, a complication from wounds she received in a Jan. 10 shooting. She is the only Columbia police officer to be killed in the line of duty.
Friends and family continue to find it hard to talk about Mrs. Bowden’s death. The Rev. Michael Burt, the family’s pastor and spokesman, said that although their faith has kept them strong, at this point it is too difficult to publicly share their loss.
Mrs. Bowden didn’t know how to do things half-heartedly, said Sandra Langenberg, her college roommate.
“When she believed in something, she did it with all her heart,” Langenberg said.
Dedication blanketed all of her efforts, whether she was jumping out of airplanes, working as a police officer, loving her family and friends or following her Lord.
“She had a real spirit of achievement,” said Burt, pastor at Grace Bible Church. “You really believed that if she wanted it, you didn’t want to stand between it and her. Not that she was mean or vicious, but just a woman of high resolve.”
Mrs. Bowden never backed down from a challenge. In the summer of 1997, she applied for the Air Force Academy’s Free Fall program in Colorado Springs, Colo., a selective and intense training course. As part of the training, students learned how to properly jump from airplanes. Each student had to jump solo and pull their own ripcord.
Mrs. Bowden was the only MU cadet to go through the training.
“Most of the cadets were afraid, but not Molly,” Locke said.
Even after hurting her shoulder during her first jump, Mrs. Bowden refused to quit.
“She jumped up and said, ‘I’ll be fine,’ Locke said. “She made me promise not to alert others, as she wanted to finish the program and knew she could tough it out. And that’s exactly what she did.”
She was born on July 20, 1978, in Paris, Mo., to David and Beverly Phillips Thomas. She was a 1996 graduate of Hickman High School and also a member of Woodlandville 4-H Club and the FFA chapter at Hickman.
In high school, Mrs. Bowden made an impression. Fellow student Haley Wright remembers her well.
“She had very strong morals and (a) religious background,” Wright said. “That is what drew me to her. She was always accepting of people no matter who they were or what they looked like.”
She received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Columbia College in 2002.
In college, Mrs. Bowden shared an apartment with fellow ROTC member Langenberg, who was an MU student.
“We pretty much did everything together,” Langenberg said. “We would ride horses. We also went waterskiing together.”
Amid all the fun, what Langenberg respected most about Mrs. Bowden was her dedication to her faith and family. Every Sunday, Mrs. Bowden spent the day with her parents, brother and her Australian sheepherder, Doc. The family attended Grace Bible Church and spent the rest of the day at their Rocheport home.
“She would sometimes sneak Doc into our complex,” Langenberg said. “She loved that dog.”
Although the two lost contact after college, Langenberg said she wasn’t surprised to learn Mrs. Bowden became a Columbia police officer.
“She was always interested in being a cop,” Langenberg said. “It was such a natural fit.”
Mrs. Bowden studied at the MU Law Enforcement Training Institute before becoming a police officer with the MU Police Department in 2001. She joined the Columbia Police Department in 2002.
MU Officer Brian Weimer worked with Mrs. Bowden, who was promoted to squad leader after starting as a campus safety officer.
Weimer called Mrs. Bowden fun and energetic and said she did an exceptional job. She always looked out for others, he said.
“When she was a squad leader she took good care of the officers under her,” Weimer said. “She went to a good extent to make sure they were off (work) for what they needed off for, even if that meant she covered for them herself.”
She also treated those whom she encountered on the job with respect and dignity, something her pastor said was an outgrowth of her faith.
“That’s the kind of faith that is exhibited by a person who lives out the ‘love your enemies’ concept,” Burt said. “Molly regarded evil as the enemy, not people.”
Weimer experienced this attitude firsthand.
“She always remained professional in spite of others being rude or yelling at her,” Weimer said. “I have no question she was doing what she loved to do.”
Professional love brought about Mrs. Bowden’s personal love. She met Corey Bowden while working as an MU police officer. He served as her city police backup. They married on July 29, 2003, in Negril, Jamaica.
“She told me, ‘You don’t have to decorate the beach,’” Mrs. Bowden’s mother, Beverly Thomas, said in January.
When Mrs. Bowden married, she didn’t just gain a spouse. She gained an entire family. She was determined to be a good stepmother to Cody, 9, and Brandon, 6, Corey’s two children from a previous marriage. Burt said she took on the task with commitment and love.
The day she was shot, Mrs. Bowden had called Burt to set up an appointment for Wednesday of that week. The transition to motherhood had been abrupt for Mrs. Bowden and she wanted to ensure she was doing her best for the boys.
“She said, ‘I just really want to be a better mom,’” Burt said. “She had a high desire to do the right thing and the best thing; that’s why she called me. I still actually saw her Wednesday, but it was in the hospital.”
Mrs. Bowden is survived by her husband; her two stepsons; her parents; a brother, Matthew Thomas; and a niece, Brooke Thomas, all of Columbia.
Visitation will be from 10 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Tuesday at Mizzou Arena, off of Stadium Boulevard at 1 Champions Drive. Services, conducted by Burt and the Rev. Doug Phillips, will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the arena.
The family asks that memorial contributions be directed to the Columbia Police Foundation Officer Down Fund, c/o Memorial Funeral Home, 1217 Business Loop 70 W., Columbia, MO 65202.