Fran Gough does most of her crying alone. Family and friends want her to "move on" or "think more positive thoughts" but she just can't stop crying.
"My family wants me to close the book, to let it go," said Gough, sitting at Dry Creek Cemetery in Boise. "I come out here in secret because my family doesn't want me to be so upset all the time. You know what? I can't let it go. They took my only..." Gough sobbed, trying to get the next three words out. "My..." she took a big breath. "...only...," she said, breathing in deeply again. "...son." Gough dissolved into heaving sobs.
This mother's tearful journey dates back to Feb. 16, 2015, the day her son Michael Casper was shot and killed by Boise police. The incident triggered national headlines in a year that saw an unprecedented number of Americans killed in police-related shootings. Casper's memorial service at the Idaho Building on Feb. 23, 2015, attracted so many mourners that dozens of people had to line up outside along Eighth Street to pay their respects. On the one year anniversary of Casper's death, a few dozen of those same people gathered to light candles and lay flowers at the scene of the shooting. On March 12, Casper's ashes were spread across the Dry Creek Cemetery scattering garden.
On a recent April afternoon at the cemetery, Gough sat by herself.
"I'm just not done mourning," she said, tears running down her cheeks.
Above all, Gough said, she just wants answers, but there were plenty of questions surrounding the mysterious circumstances leading up to Casper's shooting death. The Critical Incident Task Force conducted a lengthy investigation and the city of Boise's Office of Police Oversight performed its own review. In short, those reports exonerated BPD and laid the blame on Casper, saying his actions "placed his neighbors and responding officers in extreme danger" and led BPD Officer Jason Green to fire at Casper, killing the 26-year-old. Casper, who had no adult criminal history and no trace of drugs in his system, had been drinking in the late night hours leading up to the predawn shooting, but there are conflicting accounts of his behavior that evening. An autopsy revealed Casper's blood alcohol concentration was high that night: .262.
Ada County Detectives / City of Boise Office of Police Oversight: 'Case Closed'
The investigation, headed up by Ada County Sheriff Detective Shellie Strolberg, was intense. The reams of reports filed by Strolberg were filled with scores of interviews and references to hundreds of pieces of evidence. They also revealed that by the end of her investigation, Strolberg was referring to Casper as a criminal not a victim. When she filed her final amended report, dated July 17, 2015, Strolberg wrote, "This case is cleared by exception. Michael Casper committed the crime of Attempted Murder of a Police Officer."
The city of Boise later agreed. In one of her first critical incident investigations as the city's newly-hired director of the Office of Police Oversight, Natalie Camacho Mendoza, wrote there was "no need to conduct any additional investigations of this incident."
Nowhere in Mendoza's oversight examination did she make any reference to the fact that the last person to see Casper alive was Chris McIntire, the stepson of a BPD officer. In Detective Strolberg's reports, she makes only one passing reference to McIntire's link to BPD.
"I was also informed that he [McIntire] is a stepson of a Boise Police [the officer's rank and name were redacted]. [He] was not involved in the investigation," wrote Strolberg.
In the days that followed the Feb. 16, 2015 shooting, McIntire agreed to, then rejected, then agreed to, then again rejected our request to talk with him about the mysterious events leading up to the shooting death of Casper, someone he called a "dear friend." Immediately following the shooting, McIntire posted on his Facebook page: "If anyone has questions...please contact me," even adding his personal phone number. When asked for details, McIntire said he wasn't comfortable talking about what happened. Following Casper's highly-emotional Feb. 23, 2015, memorial service—which triggered some fallout between McIntire and Casper's family—McIntire told us, "OK, you want to know what happened? I'll tell you," but said he would only talk on his own terms. When we asked for clarification on some of his claims, McIntire refused to elaborate, insisting he was cooperating with the official investigation into the shooting death of his friend.
So, What Did Happen the Night Before?
A review of investigators' reports revealed that in the late night hours of Feb. 15, 2015, McIntire had asked Casper if he could stay the night at Casper's apartment, which was on the 3000 block of Malad Street on the Boise Bench. Shortly after McIntire got to Casper's, the two headed over to Jumpin' Janet's on Vista Avenue, arriving at the bar at around 9:30 p.m. McIntire told investigators he and Casper played pool and drank beer. McIntire said after "about a pitcher-and-a-half of beer," Casper started acting "strange" and "irritated." When Ada County Detective Jared Watson later interviewed a bartender who was working at Jumpin' Janet's that night, the bartender said "they both appeared to be having a good time and neither of them seemed agitated or upset."
According to the reports, McIntire said he and Casper returned to Casper's apartment at around 12:15 a.m. on Feb. 16, 2015. McIntire told police Casper was getting increasingly upset, at one point staring at McIntire with an "empty death glare" and saying, "I wanna knock you out. I kinda wanna hit you." McIntire said he eventually decided to go home, leaving Casper's apartment around 1 a.m. He later texted a couple of friends, writing to one, "Casper is a psychopath. I had to leave," and to another, "I literally almost had to choke him out because he was getting violent."
Days later, McIntire would say he had no idea what happened after he left Casper's apartment. McIntire went to work the next day and didn't know about the shooting until the following evening when he drove to Casper's apartment and discovered police on the scene. In her reports, Detective Strolberg wrote that McIntire later told her the "normal, clearheaded Casper wouldn't have done something like that in a million years. After seeing the version of Casper he saw the night before, he wasn't so surprised."
A call came into 911 at 1:23 a.m. on Feb. 16, 2015: "My neighbor is smashing his front window. You guys need to get here immediately," the caller said. BPD Officer Jason Green, a six-and-a-half-year veteran of the force, was first on the scene, arriving 10 minutes after the call came in. Green said he heard glass shattering and then shots being fired from Casper's residence. As he approached the apartment, Green spotted Casper holding a gun. According to the report, Green yelled three times for Casper to drop his weapon. Casper "shouldered" the weapon as if to fire. Green fired three shots. Green said Casper then "forcefully shoved the barrel of the gun out the window." Green said he fired four to five more shots.
By then, a SWAT team, along with officers from the Ada County Sheriff's Office, Meridian police, Idaho State Police and Garden City police were on scene, all assisting Boise police. Neighbors were evacuated and police tried to enter Casper's apartment—the door couldn't be opened all the way because, in the doorway, a shirtless Casper was lying on his back, dressed in shorts and one sock. A chainsaw lay in his lap and a black Remington 12-gauge shotgun was under his left leg. There was a large pool of blood under his body, his chest was smeared with blood, and he was bleeding from two gunshot entrance wounds under his left arm and two exit wounds near his nipples. One of the shots had perforated his left heart ventricle, and there was damage to his right lung, diaphragm and liver. The trajectory of the holes was later linked to bullet casings found on the floor of the apartment. Crime scene investigators said they discovered eight spent shells from Officer Green's weapon along with shotgun slugs, pellets and evidence of rifle rounds being fired from inside the apartment. Investigators later found that multiple shots had been fired into a driveway, a camper, vehicles, fences and houses across the street from Casper's apartment.
A Community Mourns
Emotions were running high at the Feb. 23, 2015 memorial service for Casper.
"Whoever was with him that night he was shot should have stayed with him," Casper's sister, Amanda, said at the memorial, her voice rising. "None of this would have happened."
In the weeks and months that followed Casper's death, questions mounted and stones were overturned. Boise Weekly's reporting on Casper's shooting death even earned its own subsection in Strolberg's official investigation report. Strolberg dubbed the section of her report: "Boise Weekly Article," referring to a Feb. 25, 2015 story in which we chronicled Casper's memorial and spoke to several sources, all named, who had questions regarding the then-ongoing investigation. In her report, Strolberg made reference to an interview with a friend of both Casper and McIntire who told us he had his own theory regarding the incidents that led to Casper's death.
"The theory is contrary to the evidence, but I wanted to talk with [him]," Strolberg wrote in her report, adding that she looked at Casper's cellphone and Facebook page to find contact information for the man we interviewed but couldn't find any, so she didn't follow up. Boise Weekly was never contacted for information.
On Oct. 22, 2015, the Boise Police Department and Ada County Sheriff's Office said they were ready to close the books on the Casper case. On the same date, Twin Falls Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loeb, who was brought in to conduct an outside review, wrote to Ada County prosecutors, stating no criminal charges should be filed against Officer Green as a result of the Casper shooting. Boise Police Chief Bill Bones added that Green "likely saved others from serious harm" and was "defending the neighborhood and arriving officers from active gunfire from the suspect."
Casper's sister, Amanda, says that's reason enough to stop asking questions.
"Let's not bother Officer Green anymore," Amanda said Feb.16, 2016, the one-year anniversary of her brother's death. "Michael wants us to be happy now. He wants to see us go on with our lives. Let's not bring up the investigation again."
Fran Gough couldn't mark the anniversary of her only son's death the same way. It's why she keeps returning to Dry Creek Cemetery where, on March 12, she summoned enough courage to release Michael's ashes in the cemetery's scattering garden.
"I started to spread his ashes, and I quickly realized that I needed to run his ashes through my hands, to touch him one last time," she said, beginning to cry once more. "I think that's when I realized Michael was really gone. But my crying? How do I stop that?"