Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old pregnant mother, was shot to death by Seattle police with her children – including one with Down syndrome – present in the apartment.
The Seattle Police Department contends that Lyles was holding a knife when police encountered her while responding to a burglary complaint at an apartment complex. Two officers fired their weapons, Seattle police said. Police have released audio that captures officers’ initial conversation with Lyles about her burglary call before one shouts, “Get back! Get back!” and gunshots ring out after she swears at officers. You can listen to the audio later in this story. Police also released video from the scene:
On Facebook, Lyles wrote one sentence on her profile:
i am a child of god
Lyles was a mother of four. Her family believes that race played a factor in her shooting; Lyles was black and the two officers who shot her were white. The Stranger interviewed a neighbor, Lhora Murray, 42, who said “police handed her two of the victim’s children—a 10-year-old and the toddler with down syndrome.” She told The Stranger that the 10-year-old told her, “They shot my mom.”
“Charleena Lyles mattered, and now her children are motherless,” wrote one woman on Facebook as a groundswell of support for the Lyles’ family and for Lyles brewed on social media.
The shooting of Lyles comes as tensions have intensified following the acquittal of the Minnesota police officer who shot Philando Castile, a cafeteria worker who was legally permitted to carry a firearm. Castile’s girlfriend streamed the aftermath of his shooting on Facebook Live.
Protests were growing over the death.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Lyles’ Family Says She Had Mental Health Issues & Was Afraid Police Would Take Her Children
Charleena Lyles’ family believes the shooting was unnecessary. They say that Lyles had mental health issues, according to The Seattle Times.
She was “worried that authorities would take her children, one of whom has Down syndrome,” her family told the newspaper. Lyles’ family identified her as the shooting victim to the Washington State news media. They described her as physically “tiny,” Seattle Times reported.
“Why couldn’t they have Tased her? They could have taken her down. I could have taken her down,” said Monika Williams, Lyles’ sister, to The Seattle Times.
In a statement, Seattle police acknowledged that children were present when Charleena Lyles was shot.
Police acknowledged that “there were several children inside the apartment at the time of the shooting, but they were not injured. They are being cared for by other family members at this time.”
According to an article in the Stranger, “Monika Williams, Lyles’ sister, said police shot Lyles in front of her children.”
On her public Facebook page, Lyles posted photos of herself with her children and shared graphics and memes and stories about her difficult pregnancy. She also shared this graphic:
And this one:
In 2016, she wrote, “When it rains it poors u got to be a strong mf to fight a battle alone 👊✊💪keep ya head up👆i got this.” That same year, she wrote, “What a mighty God we serve!!! Can I get everybody to praise him with me? He is so worthy to be praised!!! Copy and paste…. Let’s go!!”
She also shared the date her first child was born with this post:
Lyles’ Facebook profile picture was a photo of former President Barack Obama, Michelle and their children.
She shared a graphic that read, “Name one thing money can’t buy.” Lyles responded: “Peace.”
2. Police Say Lyles Was Armed With a Knife & That Police Were Responding to a Burglary Call
In a statement, Seattle police said that, shortly before 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 18, two North Precinct patrol officers “responded to a report of a waiting burglary call in an apartment building in the 6800 block of 62nd Avenue NE.”
Police said the call was “a typical burglary report,” although they didn’t provide details of it or say whether Charleena Lyles had anything to do with the call. However, KIRO7 also reported that it was Lyles who made the burglary call to police.
“Two officers were required due to information pertaining to this address that presented an increased risk to officers,” police said, without detailing that information.
“Officers arrived and went to the fourth floor to meet with the complainant. Officers were confronted by a 30-year-old woman armed with a knife. Both officers fired their duty weapons, striking the woman. The officers immediately performed first aid while the Seattle Fire Department responded, but the fire department declared the woman deceased once they arrived,” the Seattle police said.
“Detectives from the Force Investigation Team (FIT) and SPD Crime Scene Investigators (CSI) responded to the scene, along with representatives from the Office of Professional Accountability, to collect evidence and review the incident,” said police, adding, “Both officers who discharged their weapons during the incident will be placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation, in accordance with department protocol.”
3. Lyles’ Sister Told the Media Charleena Lyles Was Pregnant When Shot
Adding another layer to the controversy and tragedy, Lyles’ sister told The Seattle Times and The Stranger website that Charleena Lyles was pregnant when the police shot her. Monika Williams wrote on a GoFundMe site established to help Lyles’ family: “This morning Seattle Police killed a 30 year old black female named CHARLEENA LYLES AKA LEENA BOO IN FRONT OF HER FOUR CHILDREN!! LEENA WAS WITH CHILD!! Please help her by supporting her family!! #SHEHASANAME #JUSTICEFORLEENABOO #NOTTHISTIME #LEENALIFEMATTERS.”
According to The Seattle Times, Lyles had a criminal history and had just gotten out of jail.
“King County Jail records indicate Lyles was arrested and booked into jail June 5 for obstruction of a public official and two counts of harassment filed in Seattle Municipal Court. She was released conditionally June 14,” the newspaper reported. Her family says her mental health issues caused those issues and were not properly treated.
Lyles was once featured in a profile story as a person who had successfully transitioned off welfare.
“A story in the Federal Way Mirror featured Lyles in 2008. She had gotten a job through a program for at-risk youth. The story said Lyles had been receiving welfare when she entered the THRIVE program and was later placed at the Poverty Bay Coffee Company in Federal Way where she was permanently employed and no longer received welfare,” reported KIRO7.
The television station reported that the shooting occurred at Brettler Family Place, “a community made up of 52 families coming out of emergency and transitional shelters.”
No officers were injured in the shooting, the television station reported. The officers’ names have not yet been released.
4. Videos From a Neighbor Showed Officers in Tactical Gear Heading Toward the Apartment Building & Audio Captured the Shooting
Journalist Steven Hsieh wrote on Twitter that a neighbor captured officers approaching the apartment building on video before Lyles was shot.
He shared both videos on Twitter. Here’s the second:
“Neighbor, who does not want to be identified, shot this video prior to shooting. Said SPD we’re talking to man in apt,” he wrote.
There may be more video to shed light on the shooting.
In a story published by the Stranger, Hsieh wrote that Lyles was shot at a Magnuson Park housing project. He reported that “Lyles reportedly made the call” about the burglary, although this was not confirmed by police. He also noted that “a flag on Lyles’ case due to an incident last week involving a weapon triggered the department to send two officers.”
In the audio released by Seattle police, police discuss previous contacts with Lyles.
One officer says, “she started talking all crazy about how the officers weren’t going to leave.” There was an officer safety caution listed on her, an officer said.
“Is this the one with the three kids?” an officer says.
The other says, appearing to refer to a past incident, that she was “making all weird statements.” They discuss previous “DV’ contacts.
The audio is 4 minutes 3 seconds long. It also captures the officers’ speaking to Lyles, although parts of the audio file are redacted, and parts of the conversation are hard to hear. What is clear from the audio though is that the conversation started out non-confrontational and confirms that Lyles had called police for help due to believing her apartment was burglarized.
“You called? Can we come in?” an officer says.
“Um, there was a break in,” Lyles said. “…someone broke into the house.”
“Do you have any idea who it might have been or anything like that?” says an officer.
“I have no idea.”
They ask her name.
The children can be heard in the background. Lyles tells officers an X Box was taken.
Then, the shooting.
“Get back, get back” an officer says. “Hey get back, get back.”
Right before that, Lyles refers to the officers as “motherf*ckers.” Although the audio can be hard to hear, some interpret that as “get ready motherf*ckers” and one officer tells dispatch “We need help…a woman with two knives.” He tells his partner to tase her but his partner says he doesn’t have a taser.
Gunfire rings out about 11 seconds after the first get back statement.
Seattle police said in a statement, “The audio file was captured by the officers’ dashcam video system, which was operational in the patrol cars of both responding officers. While property crimes reports typically require only one officer to be dispatched, two officers were dispatched to this particular call for service because of a recent officer safety caution associated with the caller.”
Added police: “Both officers were equipped with less lethal force options, per department policy. All Seattle police officers receive Crisis Intervention Training. The audio file depicts the conversation between the officers just prior to contacting the caller as they discuss the history of the residence and their concerns. The audio also captured some of the interaction with the caller prior to the rapid development of the use of force incident. Please note that all names as well as the caller’s address and telephone number have been redacted.”
You can also listen to the audio here.
5. Community Vigils Are Being Held to Protest Lyles’ Shooting
Community vigils have already been held in protest of Lyles’ shooting, and support for her grieving family is taking off on social media.
Tragically, she’s also become a hashtag: #CharleenaLyles.
People filled the Seattle Police social media pages with angry comments. Wrote one man, “I’ve met her. She was little. Ur officers are cowards. Use tasers. DON’T F*CKING SHOOT TO KILL EVERY TIME! Charge them both w/murder.”
Jesse Hagopian wrote on Facebook, “Charleena Lyles was not an outsider – she is part of the SPS family. Her children go to Seattle Public Schools, so she is part of the educator family. And we stand with her and with you. Educators and families, in honor of Charleena and her family, please wear the Black Lives Matter shirts this Tuesday, June 20. And stay tuned for a rally in support after school. (My daughters and I will wear our Black Lives Matter shirts on Tuesday in honor of Charleena Lyles. 🖤)”
Angela Bertrand wrote, “Tonight I attended a vigil for Charleena Lyles. Another black woman killed by the police. She called them to get help and instead of help, she was shot while 3 of her children were in the next room. This keeps happening and the message black people hear is that their lives don’t matter. And they do. Black Lives Matter. Let’s start proving it.”
You can watch Charleena Lyles’ family talk about her life at a vigil here: