Michael and Terry Boarts said they never expected the Auburn Police Division to shoot their daughter, Melissa Boarts, when they called police for help on a Sunday afternoon, April 3.
Melissa's parents were distraught and frantic to help their daughter, who suffered from mental illness.
The Boarts and numerous others led a protest today outside the APD headquarters at the Douglas J. Watson Municipal Complex along Ross Street. Others, many who have had children and family members killed by police across the United States, joined the protest.
“I had called 911 to get help for her because she was threatening to cut her wrists,” Terry said. “She has been diagnosed with bipolar [disorder] ... and PTSD. She was really depressed. I had told 911 that she was really depressed.”
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Police said officers responded to a report of a suicidal motorist that afternoon.
That call was from Terry, who decided to call the police after her daughter got in her car and disappeared. Terry said she discovered her daughter was on Interstate 85 and began following Melissa in her own car throughout the ordeal.
Terry also had her 2-year-old granddaughter with her.
“I asked my husband, ‘Should I call 911?’” Terry said. “Because the traffic was so bad, I thought maybe 911 could get there quicker. When I called 911, never in a million years did I think they would kill her. I was on the phone the whole time. I was on the phone with them when they shot and killed her.”
When Melissa finally stopped on a rural road in Macon County, Alabama, police said she rushed officers with a weapon. A single gunshot discharged from an officer's weapon killed Melissa.
Police say the shooting was justified because she charged officers with a weapon.
"They shot and killed her," Terry said. "They said that they were afraid of her. If they were that afraid of her, they don't need to be cops."
According to Boarts family, the weapon with which Melissa charged police was a small pocket knife she was carrying. The same pocket knife with which she threatened to injure herself. Terry said she told police Melissa had the knife.
“They knew when they rolled up on her exactly what the situation was,” Michael said. “We told them what her mental state was. We told them the weapon she had. She had a pocket knife. They still haven’t said outright that it was a knife that she had. They keep saying a weapon. For a lot of people, (a weapon) is a gun.”
Melissa’s death was the first time the APD has used deadly force in nearly 40 years, according to the APD.
"It's a tragedy for their family and the officers involved," said Capt. Lorenza Dorsey, public information officer for the APD, in a release shortly after Melissa's death. Police refused to comment after the protest on Saturday.
According to Terry, the police told her officers recently received training on how to deal with people with mental illness.
"The Auburn police department had training on how to deal with mental health issues," Terry said. "Is that the kind of training they got — shoot to kill? They could have stayed in their cars, we were right there. She didn't know why they were pulling her over. She was in that bipolar mental state. She did not know."
Those with untreated mental illnesses are 16 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police during a stop or encounter than those without mental illness, according to a study by the Treatment Advocacy Center.
Nearly a quarter of at least 305 individuals shot and killed by police across the U.S. suffered from mental illness, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning database compiled by The Washington Post.
"All the cops would have had to do is say, 'Melissa, your parents are right down the road. They're coming here,'" Terry said. "I mean, we were right there. We could have helped her. We could have talked her down. We could have made her come back. We could have said, 'Melissa, it's OK. It's OK.'"
An investigation is still underway by the State Bureau of Investigation. Police have not released the names of the officers involved.
"We want their names released," Terry said. "We want the tapes released. We want to know why they didn't use a taser — why they didn't use mace. ... Why did they have to shoot her?"
Terry and Michael are not the first parents to face the loss of their child because of a bullet shot by the same police officers whom they called for help.
In 2012, Andrew Messina was shot and killed by a police sniper in Cherokee County, Georgia. His mother, Lisa Messina, called the police for help after Andrew threatened to kill himself with a gun after an overwhelming day at school.
Lisa and her husband Nick Messina were at the protest today in support of the Boarts family.
"We're here to support the Boarts family because of the loss of their child," Nick said. "We lost our child to a police officer's bullet May 1, 2012. We know exactly what they're going through, and we're just here to give them some support."
Terry, Michael and their surviving daughter, Melissa's twin Melinda, are pursuing legal action against the APD and the City of Auburn for Melissa's death.
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