Suspect in Memphis Jewish school shooting was present when police shot and killed his father in 2003


((JEWISH REVIEW)) — The man who was shot by police in Memphis, Tennessee, on Monday after allegedly bringing a gun into a Jewish school there was the son of a Jewish physician who himself was killed by Memphis police officers 20 years ago.

The man who tried to enter Margolin Hebrew Academy with a gun was Joel Bowman, a friend of the family who was a former classmate told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. confirming a report by a local Memphis TV station that cited family and friends in identifying Bowman. Bowman is hospitalized in critical condition.

The family friend told (JEWISH REVIEW) that Bowman, who is 33, was a former student at Margolin Hebrew Academy, Memphis’ main Orthodox school located on the city’s east side. On Monday, Rep. Steve Cohen, a Jewish Democrat who represents Memphis in Congress, also said the gunman had attended the school.

According to his Facebook page, Bowman is the son of Dr. Anthony Bowman, a cardiologist trained at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico who died in May 2003 after being shot by police officers outside his house in Memphis. A death notice published in the local newspaper at the time encouraged donations in Anthony Bowman’s memory to be given to Margolin Hebrew Academy.

Now, Joel Bowman’s former classmates and community members are left processing what has happened to him.

“Genuinely to the core, I don’t think he would ever intentionally hurt someone,” Brittney Eshelman-Worch, who attended Margolin Hebrew Academy with Bowman, told a local news station. “He has struggled with mental health for a number of years.”

Twenty years ago, Joel Bowman’s mother, Susan, called 911 because her husband had begun behaving erratically and holding a handgun to his head, according to a legal complaint she filed the following year seeking compensation. She and Joel, then a minor, were in the “zone of danger” at the time and had experienced emotional distress, the complaint said.

Anthony Bowman’s death and that of another man at the hands of Memphis officers on the same day prompted the Memphis Police Department to pilot the use of nonlethal weapons such as Tasers, the local newspaper reported at the time.

Susan Bowman’s complaint was ultimately dismissed in 2010 because she could not “in good faith allege that the police officers’ conduct … was motivated by considerations of race, color, religion, ancestry or national origin,” a requirement of the statute under which she had pursued compensation, according to the ruling by a Tennessee court.

By then, Joel Bowman had finished high school and received a scholarship to attend Lev HaTorah, a yeshiva in Israel, during the 2009-2010 academic year. The scholarship was named after Alisa Flatow, a Brandeis University student who was killed in a suicide bombing in Gaza in 1995.

An estimated 10,000 Jews live in the Memphis area, according to a 2006 analysis by the local Jewish federation. Many of them are affiliated with the city’s Orthodox community, which is unusually dense for a Southern city. The historic Baron Hirsch Synagogue boasts of being the largest Orthodox congregation in the United States, and the community has also been chronicled in bestselling novels by the Jewish writer Tova Mirvis.

But faced with an aging population, the Orthodox community has sought to attract new families in recent years. Bowman had been one of only two boys in his Margolin Hebrew Academy class for a few years in elementary and high school, his former classmate told (JEWISH REVIEW), and he stayed in Memphis after many of his classmates left.

Public posts on Bowman’s Facebook page, where he had posted about basketball games and punk concerts during high school, offer little information about his life following his time in the school. He posted about Suicide Prevention Day in 2019 and in April of this year posted an image of Lucy, Maia and Rina Dee, Jews murdered in a shooting attack in the West Bank.

In the last week, Bowman’s public posts became more frequent. Only July 24, he posted that he was on the verge of launching a farm and flower business.

On Saturday, he posted a picture of his father’s grave, located in the Anshei Sphard Cemetery in Memphis. In an extended, disjointed post accompanying the picture, he wrote about having a “therapy breakthrough” and said, using a Hebrew term for God, that he had “yelled at Hashem” at the gravesite.

Addressing the universe, Bowman wrote, “Please allow me to keep my calm, to remember to breathe, and to REMEMBER WHO I COME FROM.”

Two days later, he sought to gain entry into his former school, shortly after making his last Facebook post: “Gots time on my hands 👀👀. ‘Home’ Court Visit.” Within hours, he was critically wounded.