During his days at the Savannah Morning News, a colleague recalled, Don Lowery and other reporters used to sit around and joke that bank robbery was the “stupidest crime in the world.”
Lowery, 52, is now charged with that crime, leaving many confused about why he may have ignored his own judgment.
Police say a bank customer tackled Lowery on Monday after he walked into a BankSouth branch with a sawed-off shotgun, 25 rounds of ammunition and two knives.
“I’m broke ... I needed the money. My kids ain’t got no food,” he told officers as he was being shackled, according to a police report.
Lowery also was ill and in need of a liver transplant, the editorial page editor of the Savannah Morning News said in a column published Wednesday. Lowery left his job at the newspaper in May.
“He actually is a thoroughly decent human being,” said Charlie Cochran, a former Morning News editor and reporter who left the newspaper last year to become a minister. “Don, if he had been in his right mind, would not have done what he’s allegedly done. I just think he was under a tremendous amount of pressure.”
Cochran said he remembered discussions where Lowery and others would comment that bank robbery was “the stupidest crime in the world, because it’s the one crime guaranteed to get the FBI on your case.”
Lowery has been hospitalized since his arrest and was in listed in serious condition Wednesday. Police say Harry Gloss, the customer who grabbed Lowery, tackled him as Lowery fumbled with the gun in his belt. The report says Gloss struck Lowery repeatedly to keep him on the ground.
“I was scared for those women working in that bank,” said Gloss. “I thought he was going to hurt those women. I just couldn’t let them get hurt.”
Lowery, who is thin and peers through thick, large glasses, had covered Effingham County for the newspaper since 1989. Co-workers knew him as a tough reporter who fought for public access to government and had little patience for dishonesty. He could be painfully blunt, even about his own shortcomings, as was apparent in the online profile Lowery wrote about himself for the newspaper’s Web site.
“I’ve been cussed, beat up, fired, bit, burned, busted for drunk driving (at 10 a.m. on my way to work), cut, threatened ...,” Lowery wrote. “I’ve also tried to accurately cover news I felt was important to readers.”
Tom Barton, the editorial page editor, who has known Lowery since 1978, said in his column Wednesday that any attempted heist by Lowery would be “doomed to fail.”
“Don Lowery knows as much about bank robbery as the pope knows about Viagra,” wrote Barton.
Sign of pressure
In what may have been a sign that Lowery was under pressure around the time he left the newspaper, four months before his arrest, he apparently used his newspaper e-mail account to reply with insults and profanity to a news release from Americans for Legal Immigration, said William Gheen, president of the North Carolina-based advocacy group.
The group had sent him a release urging state and local governments to step up enforcement of immigration laws. Lowery’s e-mail began: “Go (expletive) yourself,” according to a copy posted on the group’s Web site.
Gheen said he complained to Susan Catron, the newspaper’s executive editor, who later told him Lowery was “among the ranks of former employees.” Savannah Morning News Publisher Julian Miller and Catron declined to comment, saying the newspaper does not discuss personnel issues.
Miller said the newsroom staff has been collecting cash donations to be sent to Lowery’s family. Lowery’s wife, Sandra, did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday.
“We were all disturbed when we heard that Don was involved in this,” Miller said. “He had been part of this newspaper and the news community here for a couple of decades. Our hearts go out to his family.”