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Armed man who tried to enter Memphis Jewish school fired at a contractor, police say

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (AP) — A Tennessee man who tried to enter a Jewish school with a gun fired shots at a contractor there and later pointed his weapon at police before an officer wounded him on a residential street, authorities said.

Joel Bowman, 33, went to Margolin Hebrew Academy-Feinstone Yeshiva of the South school in Memphis on Monday and tried to get inside, but he was denied entry, police said on the day of the shooting. Class was not in session, but there were limited staff and construction workers there at the time.

In an affidavit, police said Bowman — a Jewish man who had attended the school — walked around its exterior and fired two shots at the contractor, who was not hit. Bowman then fired two more shots outside the school before driving away in a pickup truck, police said.

Officers tracked down Bowman a short drive from the school. He exited his truck with a gun in his right hand and pointed the weapon at an officer, who shot him, police said. Bowman was hospitalized in critical condition.

Bowman was charged Wednesday with attempted second-degree murder, carrying a weapon on school property and other alleged offenses. His lawyer, Mitchell Wood, said Bowman was still in the hospital but was arraigned “in absentia” in court on Friday. He pleaded not guilty, Wood said.

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A possible motive for the attempt to enter the school has not been disclosed. Security officials for the Jewish community declined to discuss what safety measures were in use at the school, but they have said places of learning, synagogues and community centers in Memphis and around the country have strengthened security in recent years in light of a spate of shootings at places where Jewish people gather in public.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents and Memphis Police Department officers, after a man suspected of a shooting at a synagogue was shot, in Memphis, Tennessee, July 31, 2023. (Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal via AP, File)

Bowman’s confrontation with police came 20 years after his father was fatally shot by officers while holding a gun during a mental health episode at the family home.

Bowman’s cardiologist father, Dr. Anthony Bowman, died in May 2003. A lawsuit filed by Susan Bowman said she told police her husband was acting “acting erratically and appeared to be emotionally distraught” and was taking medication for bipolar disorder.

Anthony Bowman placed a handgun to his head and left the house, but did not threaten any harm to anyone but himself, the lawsuit said. Police officers confronted and shot him multiple times, killing him.

In its response to the lawsuit, the city of Memphis said Anthony Bowman posed a threat to others and the actions of police were justified. Susan Bowman had sought damages from the city on a claim of malicious harassment, but the lawsuit was dismissed.

In the days before he was shot, Joel Bowman posted a photo on Facebook of his father’s tombstone and referenced the death on the social media site.

“Every night for the last 20 years I’ve gone to sleep & been confronted with “The Memory” of my Fathers death … Full color, full sounds & minute details, the Smell of Gunpowder burning my nostrils hits even now when I’m thinking about it,” Bowman wrote.

Other recent Facebook posts included positive references to basketball, songs, former coaches and his friends. He wrote that his father played musical instruments and that he had bonded with his dad over Pokemon.

Memphis police officers at the scene of an officer-involved shooting, July 31, 2023, in Memphis, Tennessee. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

They also included a post that Joel Bowman “gots time on my hands, home court visit.”

Other messages appeared to discuss his state of mind.

“Let me explain how my “Mind” works a lil’ bit,” one post said. “It’s never “Quiet” up in there, it *Could* have driven me Insane. It *Could* have Killed me, I know from personal experience.”

Bowman’s close friend, Charles LaVene, said he attended the Jewish school with Bowman. LaVene has become a sort of spokesperson for Bowman and his mother, Susan, who lives with her son on a farm in Stanton, east of Memphis.

LaVene said Bowman played basketball at the school and he was a well-liked “nice guy.”

“We were teenagers, we played basketball, we did video games,” LaVene said in a telephone interview. “With me, I was his friend, he was very loud. With other people, he was quiet, he was reserved. A kind person.”

Still, Bowman’s father’s death traumatized his friend, LaVene said.

“Joel watched it, he saw it,” LaVene said, adding that Bowman’s shooting was “eerily similar to his father’s.”

LaVene, 32, said he does not know why Bowman went to the school. LaVene said his friend didn’t have hard feelings toward the school and he thinks that “if anything, he was trying to go home, to be there on the courts.”

“We are hyper-vigilant these days when it comes to school shootings, and a lot of times you’ll see manifestations of hate and bullying,” LaVene said. “That’s not the case.”