Leader Blues

Friday, August 29, 2008

TOP STORY > >Family speaks after son killed in shootout with police

Leader Publisher

Steven Smith’s family buried their schizophrenic son Friday morning, four days after he’d been fatally shot in their house by Jacksonville police following a five-hour standoff.

The family held a viewing and a wake for him Thursday evening and came home around 8 and agreed to give us a tour of their bloodied, bullet-riddled home in Jacksonville’s Foxwood subdivision.

The place feels like a morgue: There’s blood on the carpeting and on Steven’s bed and bullet holes almost everywhere you looked.

Steven’s father, Walter, Sr., is a retired Air Force officer who walks with a cane and still has bruises on his face — his nose was broken when his 45-year-old son beat him up before the shooting started.

As he points to the bullet holes in the house — the garage, kitchen, living room, dining room and his son’s bedroom, where he was first shot — the elder Smith says, “We’ve got quite a bit of glass to replace.”

Steven snapped on Monday, getting into an argument with a neighbor, who complained about the bottle rockets Steve was setting off, so he reached for his semi-automatic weapon — a cheap Chinese knockoff of an AK-47 — and he sprayed the neighborhood for several hours, until the police silenced him with a shot in the head.

“We didn’t even know he had it,” his father says.

Steven’s anti-psychotic medication wasn’t working, or he hadn’t taken it. Or he may have been drinking, which plunged him into darkness.

Walter had been sleeping and woke up when the phone rang.

“I thought it was his nurse,” the father says. “I called Steve to the phone, but he wasn’t in his room.”

He was outside, arguing with their neighbor over the bottle rockets going off.

“I put my clothes on,” his father continues. “When he came inside, we met in the hallway. He was mad at his psychiatrist. He thought I was on the psychiatrist’s side.”

Steven mistook his dad for one of the many demons that he imagined were out to get him.

He beat Walter, but didn’t shoot him, so he could escape from the house.

“I went across the street and called my wife,” Walter says.

His wife, Joan, is a resource teacher at Warren Dupree Elementary School.

She couldn’t get to her husband or their house and watched the standoff from several blocks away.

She says sobbing, “Every time I saw bullets coming, I’d scream. I told the police, ‘Please don’t shoot him. Gas him.’”

The Smiths wish the police had let them talk to their son and convince him to put his weapon down. “They said you can’t go any further. I never got to see my son,” Joan says.

Her daughter Theresa, who also heard the shootout from several blocks away, says, “I told a policeman I wanted to see my brother, that we’d go talk to him with a bullhorn. He said, ‘I’ll handcuff you and arrest you if you try.’”

“We tried to call him on the phone,” she says, “but the phone must have been off the hook.

“Why didn’t they put tear gas in the place?” she asks.

The police insist they had sent their best negotiators to the scene and could not talk Steven into surrendering. One officer was slightly wounded.

Walter says, “It seems to me they wanted blood. In all his shootings, he never hurt anybody. He had psychiatric problems. He could have shot the police and his neighbor if he wanted to.

“Father Les (Farley of St. Jude’s Catholic Church) wanted to talk to him,” Walter continues. “They wouldn’t let him talk to him. I know he would have trusted him.”

Walter takes us on a tour of their home and points to the bullet holes in several rooms. We go into Steve’s bedroom, where he was probably shot the first time, his father says. There are bullet holes through the blinds, not far from his bed, which is still bloody.

His father lifts a blanket that has blood on it and points to the bloody sheet and mattress.

“He got a towel. It was so red with blood, it looked like the Chinese flag,” he says.

He thinks Steven was shot in the back and ran down the hallway, which also has some bullet holes, and then into the bathroom.

His palm print was on the light switch, which was also bloody, and put his hand on the toilet, leaving his bloody handprint there, too.

Steven probably threw up while he was there. He wore a colostomy bag because of a terrible car wreck he was in several years ago and which his father changed for him every day.

He then headed for the kitchen and stood in front of the sink. There’s a window above it, and you can see the bullet holes through the blinds.

A Jacksonville officer shot him near his left temple, killing him almost instantly. The shot to the head proved fatal, and it didn’t take long for Jacksonville police to storm through the garage and enter the kitchen through the garage door.

“They never told us when he died,” his mother says.

“It’s sad to bury your son,” Walter adds, shaking his head.

“I should have died before him,” Joan says, sobbing.

Even though Steven’s head was shattered in the shooting, his father was pleased that the funeral home had reconstructed his face so the family could have a viewing for him not only on Thursday evening, but before and after the funeral service on Friday.

It’s getting late, and the parents look tired. They’ve buried their son after taking care of him for most of his life, and now he rests in peace.