An 83-year-old woman was shot and killed by police as she walked through her back yard after calling 911 to report to someone trying to break into her home.
Delma Towler of Altavista, Virginia, called 911 at around 10pm on Wednesday after hearing noises outside and suspecting it was someone trying to burglarize her home. As police were arriving at the scene, they heard gunshots coming from the residence.
Towlers son, Robert Barbour, told WDBJ7: "She's had intruders around there before. She heard some noise and she thought it was somebody out there trying to break in and she shot two or three bullets."
The Virginia State Police stated the Altavista officers took cover upon hearing the gun shots and then saw Towlers leave the back of the house. The officers approached Towlers and ordered her to drop the weapon several times. She refused their commands and pointed the gun at officers. One of the officers then fired his weapon, striking Towlers.
KSEE reports that the elderly woman was not wearing her glasses or hearing aid at the time and may not have heard or recognized the officers.
Madeline Clark, Towlers' daughter, told The News and Advance that her mother’s Chihuahua woke Towler up when it heard someone in the home. She went on to say that her mother's purse and several hundred dollars were missing. Clark believes her mother may have left a door unlocked.
Although Altavista Police Chief Clay Hamilton requested that special agents from the Virginia State Police Criminal Investigation’s Police Shooting Investigative Team to work the case, he stated his initial internal investigation shows that the responding officers followed department policy. He is awaiting the conclusion of the Virginia State Police investigation before making a final determination however.
State Police Lt. Keith Keesee stated that five special agents are investigating the shooting, but refused to comment on particulars of the case. He did tell The News and Advance:
“We approach it just as we would any other investigation. There’s not much difference. We’re going to be on a fact-finding mission.”
The officer who shot Towler has been placed on routine administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.