'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 Marlene Gebhard speaks about Tyler at a press conference. - DOYLE MURPHY
Marlene Gebhard speaks about Tyler at a press conference.

Chief Jon Belmar's quote from that first night nags at Marlene Gebhard to this day. How could the chief be so certain so soon when she still has so many questions more than eight months later, she wonders. Even after prosecutors released their report in February, and police released their records three weeks later, Marlene says she still does not have answers.

She wonders how her broad-shouldered grandson could fit through that waist-high hole in the Boyds' window without cutting himself or knocking over the highchair sitting right there. She wonders why Josh Lasley, a physically strong and professionally trained law enforcement officer, immediately pulled a gun when her grandson had none. She wonders why, if the Boyds were so worried about Tyler, they did not contact her, a woman they had known for years.

click to enlarge Police tweeted a picture of the Boyds' broken window after the shooting. - ST. LOUIS COUNTY POLICE/TWITTER
Police tweeted a picture of the Boyds' broken window after the shooting.

"Why in the hell didn't they call me?" she asks one afternoon. "They called everyone else."

She has so many questions. On the day of her meeting with prosecutors, she says she carried four pages of things she wanted to ask. After listening to McCulloch say the words "justifiable homicide" in the first five minutes, she put them away.

Marlene says the family interviewed some of the region's top attorneys after her grandson's death and ultimately hired ArchCity Defenders because of the nonprofit firm's work on social justice issues, including police abuse. She now spends hours every day looking at cases of police shooting unarmed black men across the country. She says she has lost faith in our justice system.

Maybe she'll start a foundation in her grandson's name or write a book to help other families, she says. She would like legislation that would require police to update families as cases progress. She has lost count of the times a reporter asked about some piece of information she had yet to see. It is an excruciating process, she says, like having her "skin peeled off."

Finally, after months of asking, Marlene received the police and prosecutors' reports and read through them. She has listened to the audio interviews recorded by detectives. The attorneys at ArchCity will continue to go through them piece by piece. But she knows the shooting will never make sense to her. She cannot picture her grandson "lunging" at anyone.

She does believe that Tyler was afraid for his safety in those last days. If he was also in a state of religious euphoria, she says, it is even possible he made the comments about Jesus. But it seems to Marlene that her grandson had agreed to go to church with a family he had known for years, and that's what he was doing on July 9.

Reminded of the comments he supposedly made to his sister about driving to Dallas and shooting police officers, she says little can be discerned from his nonsensical ramblings in the final hours of his life, other than that he was upset as a result of all the news of police shootings.

"All I can say is this: He put some stupid stuff on Facebook, too, that day," she says. "If he said those things, he didn't go to Dallas. He didn't do anything bizarre like that."

She looked at his posts about Dallas, his posts supporting the pro-police Blue Lives Matter and a picture he posted of a black baby and white baby hugging.

"He was all over the place," she says. "All over the place, but they don't tell you that. They just tell you the thing that makes the case seem justified."

The Boyd family's attorney, Joseph Goff, responded to a handful of emails from the Riverfront Times, but neither he nor the family ultimately agreed to an interview. In February, he wrote, "... keep in mind that a 3 month old baby, a 2 year old baby and a mother and grandmother were crawling out of a bedroom window when a massive chunk of concrete shattered the back door of their home."

The head pastor of the Boyds' church, Owen Taylor, says the family has struggled with the shooting. The attorney advised him (as well as the Boyds) not to speak to reporters, Taylor says, but he is worried people will think no one cared. Tyler was a good kid, and the Boyds are a good family, he says. It's a tragedy on all sides.

"Being friends with Rich," the pastor says, "I don't think there's a day that goes by that he doesn't think about Tyler."

Marlene and Larry Gebhard gave their dead grandson's car to his friend Marcus Burse after the funeral.

Burse and Tyler had spent hours upon hours driving around St. Louis in the Chevrolet. Now Burse drives it alone, delivering pizzas to help pay for college. He has transferred to Harris-Stowe State University, where he plans to play basketball next season.

He never had any money, moving nearly a dozen times as a kid before a teacher took in him and his brother and enrolled them at Affton, he says. The Gebhards became like an extended family. They always assumed the two friends would follow similar tracks: sports, college, jobs. After high school graduation, Marlene and Larry asked the boys to drive one of the family's cars down to the Gebhards' vacation property in Florida. The idea was to give them a vacation together before they headed off to different universities.

The trip was full of new experiences for Burse. He had never been to Florida. He had never seen the ocean. Tyler took him golfing.

"I'd never been golfing before, and now I like it," Burse says.

But it is the drive down there that he remembers most. Tyler drove the whole way, steering the sedan south on a diagonal path across the country. Burse could not keep his eyes open, dozing in the passenger's seat as his friend carried them along hour after hour. Tyler mostly just let him sleep, but whenever they neared something interesting, he would lean over to wake him.

Now that his friend is gone, Burse thinks back to the way Tyler would rouse him each time another state line came into view. Burse would wake to his friend gesturing to some new sight on the horizon — "just so I wouldn't miss it."

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