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Jewish school shooting suspect was present when police shot and killed his father, lawsuit says

The suspect's father died in 2003 at the hands of police responding to a 911 call that he "was acting erratically," according to a lawsuit.
Memphis police investigate the shooting of an armed man who tried to enter a school building on Monday, July 31, 2023.
Memphis police investigate the shooting of an armed man who tried to enter a school building in Memphis, Tenn., on July 31, 2023.WMC

The father of the man who allegedly opened fire outside a Jewish school in Memphis earlier this week was shot and killed by the city's police during a mental health crisis in 2003, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by his family.

The suspect, Joel Bowman, now 33, was present when his father was shot and killed and suffered emotional trauma as a result, it says.

Nearly 20 years later on Monday afternoon, Joel Bowman was also shot by a Memphis police officer after allegedly firing several bullets outside the Margolin Hebrew Academy. He remains in critical condition at a hospital in Memphis.

The lawsuit, reviewed by NBC News, offers some insight into his history, although a motive is still unclear.

The gunman's father, Anthony Bowman, 44, died on May 14, 2003, after his wife, Susan Bowman, and others had called 911 for help. They said he "was acting erratically and appeared to be emotionally distraught," according to an amended complaint filed in 2004 in a Shelby County, Tennessee, circuit court.

Police were told that Anthony Bowman, a local physician who had been taking medication for bipolar personality disorder, had briefly left the home and then returned.

After police arrived, officers saw the father standing in the house threatening to kill himself with a handgun that he was holding, the suit says. At one point, he ran upstairs to the second floor but came back down moments later still holding the gun.

At no point did the father point the weapon at anyone else or threaten to harm anyone other than himself, the lawsuit says.

"With his gun still pointed at his head and threatening to kill himself, Dr. Bowman left the home by the front door and walked away from officers," the suit states. "He never threatened anyone else during this time."

As the father walked away, an officer fired at him six times with an SL6, which is designed to shoot projectiles called batons, according to the lawsuit. A second amended complaint filed in 2015 said that he was struck once in the head by a projectile and five times in the body. It alleges that he was "rendered helpless and defenseless" by the shot to the head.

A second officer fired three shots from a shotgun, according to the suit. It says that the officer was about 10 feet away and that the shotgun was loaded with buckshot that contained nine pellets. Many of the pellets "passed through the body of Dr. Bowman," the suit says.

The suit states that Susan Bowman witnessed her husband’s death. She blamed police, saying that both officers should have used non-lethal means, the suit says.

"Though emotionally disturbed, Dr. Bowman was not a threat to anyone else," the lawsuit states.

It further alleges that immediately after the shooting, Susan Bowman was separated from her son and required to give a statement to police. Joel Bowman was "interrogated at the scene while his father remained lifeless on the ground for an extended period of time," it says.

Susan Bowman said she suffered from emotional distress after he was killed. Her son received psychological counseling and was treated for emotional distress, according to the lawsuit.

The suit was later settled in 2017, according to a court filing. The city attorney's office said the terms of the settlement are confidential. The Memphis Police Department did not return a request for comment.

Monday's shooting began after Joel Bowman allegedly got out of his pickup with a gun in his hand and tried to enter the school, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. When he couldn’t get inside, he “fired shots outside the school,” Assistant Chief of Police Don Crowe said.

Police said he fled the school in his truck. Officers spotted the vehicle and attempted a traffic stop. When he allegedly got out with a gun in his hand, he was shot, police said.

The officer who opened fire was relieved of duty pending the outcome of the investigation, a standard procedure.

No one was injured in the shooting outside the school, according to the Secure Community Network, an organization dedicated to the safety and security of Jewish institutions nationwide.

On Wednesday, Joel Bowman was charged with one count each of carrying weapons on school property, reckless endangerment, criminal attempted second-degree murder, possessing a firearm during the commission or attempt to commit a dangerous felony, and assault against a first responder.