'You Shot Me, Bro'

Tyler Gebhard was killed by a St. Louis County cop he knew, in a home where he was once welcome

Tyler Gebhard played varsity football at Affton High and then walked on at Southeast Missouri State.
Tyler Gebhard played varsity football at Affton High and then walked on at Southeast Missouri State. COURTESY OF THE GEBHARD FAMILY

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click to enlarge Larry Gebhard was close to his grandson,Tyler Gebhard, even sharing an apartment while Tyler was in high school. - GEBHARD FAMILY
Larry Gebhard was close to his grandson,Tyler Gebhard, even sharing an apartment while Tyler was in high school.

Josh Lasley and Tyler Gebhard were not strangers. That's something that was often lost in the aftermath of the shooting. Early reports claimed the biracial twenty-year-old and white cop had argued bitterly online about Black Lives Matter, sparking a deadly confrontation. No evidence has emerged showing the two ever corresponded about anything online, but it was too late to slow the false narrative. People on the right and left seized on the idea of simmering racial tensions spilling from Facebook into the real world. Tyler and Lasley quickly became cliches of a divided America that was surely hurtling toward violence and destruction.

The official account from law enforcement did little to clear up the confusion.

"The suspect was known to the officer and the four additional family members present at the residence" is the way police described the relationship in a news release after the shooting. Behind those bland seventeen words were years of high school football practices, church services, birthday parties and Wednesday night youth groups convened with sodas and snacks in the Boyds' home. When Lasley was hired by the St. Louis County Police Department in 2013, Tyler joined the family for a celebration dinner at Red Robin.

"He trusted those people," his grandmother, Marlene Gebhard, says.

She goes over this point in her mind as she tries to sort out what happened. Marlene is the clear matriarch of the Gebhard family. The retired president of Shop 'n Save grocery stores, she has assumed the role of spokeswoman for her grandson's heartbroken friends and relatives. It is Marlene who most often answers reporters' questions, who corresponds with the family's lawyers at ArchCity Defenders and who sat down in February with St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch and a spokesman for what she says was an "extremely disappointing" meeting — a meeting in which she learned that Lasley would face no charges for her grandson's death.

"It's the same story they've told from the beginning with a few other details thrown in," she told the Riverfront Times a few hours after the sit-down.

She and her husband, Larry Gebhard, lived next to a golf course in O'Fallon, Missouri, and raised their grandson for large swaths of his life. Tyler and Larry were especially close. His grandfather taught Tyler to play golf and went to all his football and baseball games. When Tyler wanted to transfer to Affton after a year at Christian Brothers College High School, Larry rented an apartment in south county and moved with his grandson so they would live in the right school district.

"Wherever there was Tyler, there was Larry," Marlene says.

They were proud of their grandson. He was a handsome, gifted athlete with a soft spot for people in need. She recalls how the coins from his piggy bank landed in the hands of a friend whose family was in danger of being evicted. Once, she questioned him in college about his dwindling checking account only to learn he had been renting a hotel room for a homeless man.

"Tyler was loving and kind and compassionate," she says.

Ask his high school friends about him, and they're likely to mention something dorky — the fedora he tried to pull off all through high school, video game marathons, his quest to win over anyone who was not a full-on enthusiast of Little Caesar's pizza. A natural athlete who had speed, size and power, he was also a six-foot-one, 220-pound cello player who excelled at math and talked of becoming an architect.

"He could have done anything and been great at it," childhood friend Laura Deen says.

Marcus Burse probably knew him better than anyone. They met during their sophomore year at Affton and quickly became friends. Two of the school's best athletes, they were also good students — Tyler in math, Burse in biology. On free days, they would hop in Tyler's black Chevrolet Cruze and drive, looking for new places.

"Me and Tyler, we just like to explore," he says. "We just didn't like to be in the house."

Burse accepted a scholarship to play football at Truman State University. Tyler enrolled at Southeast Missouri State University and made the football team's spring roster as a walk-on. At first they were too busy to talk much, but then Burse hurt his leg and had to have surgery. While he recovered, he and Tyler would pick a show — Orange Is the New Black, How to Get Away with Murder, Dexter – and binge-watch while they talked on the phone. Burse did not have a car, so Tyler would drive over to the Kirksville campus and bring him home for school breaks. The winter of Burse's surgery, when he could not move his leg, Tyler physically lifted him and put him in the car.

Burse was leaving a drive-in theater with his girlfriend on July 9 when he started getting calls from Marlene. He missed a couple of them, and then saw a text from a friend, saying something had happened to Tyler. Burse called Marlene, and she was crying.

"I pulled over at a gas station," he says. "I couldn't drive."

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