Two sons shot in the back by police: A mother’s cry for justice

Editor’s note: I’ve corrected the original title, “Two sons shot in the chest by police,” on learning from Lisa Ganser, a friend of Crystal Chaplin’s family who has seen André and Bryson’s wounds, that the original police report was wrong: All their bullet wounds are in the back. They were running away from, not facing, the police officer, Ryan Donald, when he repeatedly shot them.

by Crystal Chaplin

Crystal Chaplin’s sons André and Bryson
Crystal Chaplin’s sons André and Bryson

Olympia, Washington – It was a nice day in May 2015. It was dry outside and both my sons, André and Bryson, decided they were going to skateboard at the local skate park on Cooper Point Road. The park isn’t far from where we lived. Andre is 24; Bryson is 21.

They left late that afternoon on May 20, 2015. Later that night – or should I say early that morning on May 21 – my daughter came home saying someone had just been shot down on Cooper Point Road. She was frantic, asking if her brothers were home. I told her they hadn’t come home yet.

We stayed up the rest of the night waiting for them to come home but they never arrived. When morning came, there was a knock on the door. It was the detectives from the police department saying that both my sons, André and Bryson were shot in the chest by a police officer. (This was wrong. All the bullet wounds are in their backs; they were running from, not facing, the officer who shot them. – ed.)

I learned that my sons were in critical condition. I froze. I remember dropping to the floor as my heart felt like it was ripped out of my chest. I cried and I felt sick to my stomach. I prayed, “God, please don’t take them from me. Please.” I could not stop thinking, why would a police officer shoot my sons? Why?

We were told where my sons were being treated. When we arrived at the hospital, I was not allowed to go in to see my sons. An officer was in the lobby near the ICU wanting to question my daughter during this time of mourning.

This is André in August 2014 about to leave home for a job interview.
This is André in August 2014 about to leave home for a job interview.

After they’d informed my family on what purportedly happened, I immediately said, “No more questions; I want to see my sons right now!” I was finally permitted to see my sons after several minutes. Walking into the ICU room, seeing my youngest son unconscious and surrounded by machines, wires connected all over his body and on a respirator to help keep him alive was something I wasn’t prepared for. It was frightening and overwhelming.

I looked over to the side and saw a police officer calmly sitting there. That upset me. I wondered why he was even there, writing on his little pad. I still didn’t know exactly what happened or if my son would live.

Doctors eventually told me he was stable but critical. I asked where my other son was located. At first no one knew where he was, but finally we were told he was about 30-45 minutes away from where we were, at St. Peter’s. Prior to leaving for Tacoma General Hospital, we made sure Bryson was stable.

I felt numb when we left. I was torn with worry I had to leave one son alone who I knew needed me. I was worried because I was headed to see André. Again, I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. I was scared, so I prayed, “Please God, please leave him with us, please.”

Finally I arrived at André’s room. The thrill of seeing him alive overwhelmed me. I was so happy to see him awake. I could see the pain and worry in his eyes. The first thing he asked was, “How is my brother?”

I told him and he began to cry. I sat with him, broken hearted. His unselfish love told me to return to be with Bryson. “Mom, I’ll be okay. I am more worried about my brother. Bryson needs you.” I kissed him and told him I loved him very much. I told him, “I’ll be back soon, baby. I love you.” He responded, “I love you too mom.”

Bryson is in silhouette at Frye Cove Park in Olympia in April 2015, a month before he was shot and paralyzed. Crystal and her family loved Olympia for its peacefulness and natural beauty.
Bryson is in silhouette at Frye Cove Park in Olympia in April 2015, a month before he was shot and paralyzed. Crystal and her family loved Olympia for its peacefulness and natural beauty.

When we arrived back at St. Peter’s Hospital, Bryson remained unconscious as they prepared him to be airlifted to Seattle’s Harborview Hospital. I stayed overnight at the hospital with Bryson. I never left his side, talking to him, telling him constantly how much I loved him.

“Bry, Bry, open your eyes. Baby, fight! Baby, you’re strong. I’m here, and mommy’s not going anywhere.” It was the next day before Bry opened his eyes.

Family had flown in from Rhode Island, Florida and California to be with our family because what was happening was unbelievable. Nothing like this had ever happened to our family. We drove back and forth between hospitals until André was released a couple days later.

My brother, my oldest son, my sons’ father, my daughter and myself would take turns staying with Bryson at the hospital because we didn’t want to leave him alone. One of us had to be with him at all times. The drive back and forth from Seattle was so stressful and overwhelming.

I was afraid for André and Bryson and remain so to this day. Bryson is now a paraplegic with a bullet in his back from the Olympia police officer who opened fire on him and his brother. When I learned that he couldn’t walk and saw the x-ray that showed the bullet in his spine, my hurt turned to anger. In my heart, I knew the police had lied.

While in the hospital after Bryson was airlifted to Seattle, I got a call from the Olympia police chief asking me how I was doing and telling me he was sorry for what happened. I wasn’t really paying him much attention because I didn’t want to hear what he had to say.

I remember him asking me to call him because he would like to talk with me. I immediately thought, hmm, what does he want of me? About a month later, Bryson was released from the hospital. We tried to make it as comfortable as possible for him because he had to use a wheelchair.

This is Bryson at Harborview Hospital in Seattle in June, three weeks after the shooting.
This is Bryson at Harborview Hospital in Seattle in June, three weeks after the shooting.

This changed everyone’s lives, my life and the entire family’s life. We had to endure the media and ignorant people making nasty comments, saying my sons must be thugs, gang members – plain ignorance on their part. My sons are sweet, loving guys with big hearts.

After a couple months, the investigation was complete in August 2015. It was announced that both my sons, André and Bryson, would be charged with assault on the Olympia police officer.

This is despite the fact that the same police officer had previously been disciplined and has since been involved in other questionable incidents. Yet he would go free.

That officer tried to kill both of my sons. I truly believe the officer not only shot Bryson multiple times but he also wanted to kill André so there wouldn’t be any witness to his brutal and reckless attack on my sons.

This officer tried to cover up the truth. He claimed my sons tried to attack him with a skateboard. Yet he did not have a single mark on him. My sons’ clothing and bodies did not have any gunshot residue on them. It was impossible for them to be as close as he claimed they were when he shot them.

My youngest son was hit with bullets multiple times and my other son was shot at three times and hit once. I have never heard of a police officer chasing down a suspect miles away from where beer was attempted to be stolen. Instead two young Black men, my sons, were gunned down miles away with bullets flying wildly everywhere.

When I heard the charges, I was livid. This can’t be happening. The first court date was nerve-racking. Media was outside and inside the courtroom.

Three days after André’s release from the hospital, he insisted on visiting Bryson, who was still at Harborview Hospital. Crystal writes: “André was in so much pain, but he had to see his brother. They cried and hugged each other for a long time. Then we brought them both outside for some sun and fresh air. Brotherly love!”
Three days after André’s release from the hospital, he insisted on visiting Bryson, who was still at Harborview Hospital. Crystal writes: “André was in so much pain, but he had to see his brother. They cried and hugged each other for a long time. Then we brought them both outside for some sun and fresh air. Brotherly love!”

There was silence when my son was wheeled into the courtroom. I don’t think the media and people in the community believed my son Bryson was paralyzed but were forced to confront it.

I have nightmares of an officer in a police car driving down that road as I picture my sons running through the woods trying not to get hit by the officer’s bullets fired into the darkness and the dark woods.

Every day since Bryson and André came home from the hospital, I see the pain in their eyes. And I see the physical pain Bryson goes through every day. I wish I could take it all away. I feel helpless.

Where is the justice for so many men, women and children when so many have been shot and killed by police officers all over the U.S.? When is this going to stop? When is change going to come?

I thank God every day that my sons are alive. I know so many other mothers aren’t as lucky as me. I pray every day for the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, who have lost a loved one because of police brutality.

As a mother. I stand with the mother of Jackie Salyers, the mother of Che Taylor, the mother of Daniel Covarrubias to demand justice for our children. Looking back through history, it seems like it’s happening all over again and everyone is just blind to what’s really going on.

Where is the justice for so many men, women and children when so many have been shot and killed by police officers all over the U.S.? When is this going to stop? When is change going to come?

As I write these words with tears in my eyes, my chest is so heavy and it aches like I’m living those days again. I relive the nightmare every day of being told my boys were shot. I live this every day. A mother should never have to hear those words or, even worse, be told that their child has died. My heart goes out to the families that have lost a loved one to this madness.

My family will never be the same again; my sons will never be the same again. I want justice for my sons Bryson and André. The police officer should be held accountable for using excessive force, for attempted murder and never be able to work in law enforcement or be able to carry a firearm again.

Many people have asked me how I’m doing or how I’m feeling. Looking at my sons, I cry inside every day. They didn’t deserve what happened to them. I cry in private because I don’t want them to see my tears. I was protective of them before, and now I am overly protective.

Last fall, Donovan Rivers, right, a candidate for Congress, and other activists organized a large March for Mothers – watch the video below – and rally at Sylvester Park in downtown Olympia, demanding justice for André and Bryson and all victims of police violence.
Last fall, Donovan Rivers, right, a candidate for Congress, and other activists organized a large March for Mothers – watch the video below – and rally at Sylvester Park in downtown Olympia, demanding justice for André and Bryson and all victims of police violence.

Our lives have changed forever since that officer tried his hardest to kill my sons, but God had other plans for my boys. The bullet wounds and scars they needlessly suffered are proof that God is not ready for them. He sent down his Army of Angels to protect them as they ran through the woods in the darkness for their lives. I am so grateful for the Angels.

My experience as a mother of two sons who survived and lived through this traumatic ordeal has impacted my entire family. I can truly say I am blessed to have them with me. If it wasn’t for the work of God and his Angels I would be mourning both my sons. I can only imagine what they went through that horrible night on May 21, 2015. That day will forever be etched in our brains and hearts.

Crystal Chaplin
Crystal Chaplin

On April 19, 2016, I attended a City Council meeting in Olympia, Washington, my first time speaking out about my sons to the mayor and council members. I learned that the officer, Ryan Donald, who tried to kill my sons was involved in another incident: He brutalized a person in downtown Olympia. And also, back in February of 2016, he was involved in another incident, when a disabled man died in police custody. This makes three times, including the shooting of my sons.

This officer has shown nothing but reckless behavior and is a threat to the community. I am so afraid for sons and my family. What if we cross this officer’s path? What would happen? Would he again say he feared for his life and say we came after him and open fire on us? This officer needs to be fired and held accountable for his action.

I only seek … justice for André and Bryson.

Crystal Chaplin is a 52-year-old mother of four, three sons and a daughter, and grandmother of 11. Born in a small town in Rhode Island, she and her family moved to Olympia in 2012 and loved the peacefulness and beauty of the state of Washington until May 21, 2015, when her sons were almost killed by an Olympia police officer and their lives changed forever. Now she is on a journey to fight for justice for her sons, who still struggle with physical and mental pain, and for all the loved ones who have been lost to police brutality. She can be reached at msrenee2016@gmail.com.