Michael Casper would have turned 27 on Oct. 14. His birthday included cake, balloons and a chorus of "Happy Birthday." Still, there wasn't much to celebrate.
"I guess it was a bit like Michael's other birthdays but this time Michael wasn't there," said Casper's mother, Fran Gough, reaching for her smartphone. "Here, let me show you something." She played a brief video of a 5-year-old boy hugging a helium-filled birthday balloon, whispering something private into the balloon then letting it float away.
"My grandbabies still like to talk to their Uncle Michael. They stand at a table in my home where I keep Michael's ashes, put their heads down, wrap their arms around the memory box where his ashes are kept and whisper secrets to him," said Gough, adding that her only son still visits her in her dreams. "He tells me that there's nothing to be scared of. Even my mother called me out of the blue last night to tell me, 'Michael spoke to me in a dream. He said the first bullet burned and then he just went to sleep and didn't suffer.'"
Gough paused for a moment as two tears streaked each side of her face.
"I just can't..." she said, trailing off.
Gough said he she couldn't bear reading the full Ada County Coroner's report detailing the circumstances of her son's death Feb. 16, when he was killed by police responding to a disturbance at his apartment on the Boise Bench. That's probably best, considering the autopsy clinically deconstructs Casper's homicide, concluding the cause of death was a "perforating gunshot wound to the chest."
The details include specific weights and measurements of Casper's heart, lungs, kidneys and brain. The five-page report also concludes four separate gunshot wounds entered his body, passing through the chest, lungs and heart. The coroner concluded the direction of three of the four gunshot wounds was "from back to front" with a fourth shot entering "from left to right."
That's one of many mysteries that still haunt Gough, Casper's other family members and friends.
"The first time detectives came to talk to me, they told me Michael had only been shot once. Now, we learn it's four times," said Gough. "But I still think the biggest mysteries remain about who was there with Michael and the hours and minutes leading up to his shooting."
Each time she spoke to an investigator—identified by Gough as Detective Shellie Strolberg, of the Ada County Criminal Task Force—Gough said she was shut down.
"I talked to her often, maybe a dozen times," said Gough. "As she had fewer questions, I had more questions. But she kept telling me that my son was the criminal. That makes absolutely no sense to me. Michael had the utmost respect for the police."
In its official statement regarding the February incident, the Boise Police Department pointed to Casper as the cause of his own death.
"The actions of the suspect placed his neighbors and responding officers in extreme danger," wrote Boise Police Chief Bill Bones, adding that when BPD Officer Jason Green fired the fatal bullets at Casper, "[Green's] response of the violent actions of [Casper] likely saved others from serious harm."
Bones' comments came in the wake of an investigation from the Critical Incident Task Force, an internal investigation by BPD and a separate review from the Twin Falls County prosecutor's office to determine if criminal charges should be filed against Green. He was cleared of any wrongdoing by the prosecutor.
"There's never an incident such as this that doesn't impact everyone in our department," BPD Deputy Chief Eugene Smith told Boise Weekly. "People want to know that their city is safe and their police department is responding appropriately. This officer really responded in an admirable fashion and in a situation that none of us would have wanted to respond to."
It was 1:23 a.m. on Feb. 16 when BPD responded to a call stating a man, later identified as Casper, had been smashing windows with a crowbar.
"First of all, don't you think it's strange that nearly all of the glass was on the inside of the apartment?" asked family friend Holly Dallenbach, whose son, James, was a lifelong friend of Casper. "Next, the first reports from the scene were that they saw a silhouette of a man at the window."
The official report indicates Casper was "standing inside the house, near the window, holding a gun."
"OK, tell me how that's possible when his bed is right up against the window? It would be impossible for anyone to stand there," said Dallenbach. "Do I have a theory? A lot of people have a theory, and it usually involves more people at the scene than what was reported."
Chris McIntire told Boise police he was having a drink with Casper only hours before the shooting, claiming they consumed "about a pitcher-and-a-half of beer" at a local bar. Yet the official autopsy report indicated Casper's blood alcohol content was .262—more than three times the legal limit for operating a vehicle.
McIntire told BW days after the shooting that because of Casper's behavior that night, " [I] did not feel comfortable as his friend, and I thought it was better that I would leave," adding he went to work the next day and didn't learn about his friend's death until the following evening.
Gough said she had plenty of questions about exactly what happened between her son and McIntire but when she raised them to detectives, "Again, they kept telling me that my son was the criminal," she said.
The official report indicated Officer Green opened fire after Casper discharged a weapon into nearby "vehicles, driveways, fences, a camper and houses across the street from the suspect residence."
While the books are closed on the Critical Incident Task Force and internal BPD probe, one formal review remains from the Boise Office of Police Oversight.
"I'll be getting that out in the next few weeks," said Natalie Camacho Mendoza, the new director of the office, which was formerly known as the Office of the Community Ombudsman. "Whenever there's a case where an individual loses his or her life, there's a critical incident review. When I'm done, it will be publicly posted on our website."
Gough said she didn't expect the report to bring her any solace. She said she goes to work each day, comes home, sits near her son's ashes and goes to sleep.
"And sometimes I think I see him standing outside my bedroom door," she said. "He's trying to keep me safe."