By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
In more ways than one, it was a difficult situation.
On the night of March 5, police officers responded to a call at the Pearson residence on the 4800 block of Ventura Loop.
The details known now are both chilling and heartbreaking. Brett Angus Pearson and friend Robert Daniel Miller III, both 17, were arrested for the murder of Pearson’s mother Michelle and the attempted murder of his dad, Wilfred. The two teens were arrested later that night in separate locations.
Initially, however, information was sketchy at best.
Lt. Andrew Copeland with the Keizer Police Department singled out some individuals for acting heroically that night.
Chief among them: Wilfred “Bill” Pearson, who was taken to the Salem Hospital with gunshot wounds. He was released on March 22.
“Bill Pearson did as good a job as he could,” said Copeland, who met with Pearson last week. “He’s just a phenomenal individual. He’s recovering well, given the circumstances. We as a law enforcement community have the utmost respect for him. He did a great job with dispatch, staying calm. The call taker did a phenomenal job as well.
“There were a lot of different scenarios we’re dealing with,” Copeland added. “We knew at least one person was injured, Bill. We didn’t know the extent of his injuries. We knew he was in the house, unable to move. He was still conscious and alert. We didn’t know if others had been injured in the house. We didn’t know the location of his wife or son. We didn’t know if there was a suspect or suspects and if they were still in the house. You know you need to preserve Mr. Pearson’s life, but you also want to make sure you don’t put the lives of officers in jeopardy. You try to deal with it in the safest manner, knowing officers are going into a potentially unsafe area.”
Police chief John Teague said “a number of significant events came together at just the wrong time” on that night.
Copeland said heavy rain and wind hampered communication for officers. The computer mapping system sent the two initial response officers to the wrong location, on the other side of the neighborhood.
“It was a series of abnormal events,” Copeland said. “There was a car down the street with headlights on. Based on the time of night, we assumed that car was involved. It turned out the car’s owner forgot to turn the lights off. A couple of officers were dealing with an arrest they had just made.”
Once officers arrived at the Pearson home, information came across of a suspect vehicle being a dark pickup with a canopy on the back, with an unknown plate.
“Officers saw a vehicle like that right in front of the house,” Copeland. “Did the suspect come back? There were all of these different factors involved.”
Soon after, Sgt. Jeff Goodman and officer Scott Keninston went in and secured the scene, assisted by Barrett Byers from the Salem Police Department. Copeland noted it was Byers who found the Pearsons.
“We were having officers respond to an unknown type of shooting event,” Copeland said. “They were going in with limited information, knowing a suspect could still be inside. It was pretty courageous to walk in like that, knowing there could be some kind of resistance. Then you add emotionally dealing with Mr. Pearson and seeing Mrs. Pearson. It’s traumatic for responding officers.
“Overall, looking at it, the officers made good tactical decisions,” Copeland added. “It was done correctly. Once they were inside, they did everything to preserve life. Once we were inside, there was no delay on the medics’ part. They were phenomenal, too. That is a very professional agency. They came in and did everything perfect. By the time they came in and had Mr. Pearson to the hospital, it was a very short amount of time.”
Teague had high praise for responders after reviewing all of the details.
“After marrying the tape, the CAD, and the officers’comments, I moved to being quite appreciative of their response, including their selfless determination to go in when they did,” Teague said.
Jeff Cowan, chief of the Keizer Fire District, noted there was an active investigation that night when medics arrived.
“It was their call; we follow them,” Cowan said KPD officers. “We’re under the command of the Keizer Police Department at a crime scene. When they said they were ready, we went in. We have a close working relationship with the Keizer Police Department.”
Copeland noted detectives kept in touch with the hospital daily about Pearson’s condition and continue to hold him in high regards.
“For him to have the conversation with our dispatcher and to stay calm, to remain actively engaged in the conversation given the extent of the injuries, given the tragic events that occurred, that was remarkable,” Copeland said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of anyone who has done as well as him. To rationally think through it, to stay conscious and alert, that was kind of phenomenal.”
The next step is to fulfill a request made by Pearson regarding the officers.
“We will arrange for Bill to meet the officers, to put a face to the guys who showed up,” Copeland said. “That was important to him, so will make sure that happens.”
The Pearson family is still in the thoughts and prayers of the KPD family, Copeland emphasized.
“We try to look for the good, which in this case is the recovery of Mr. Pearson,” Copeland said. “We pray for him and his family. We hope they can find comfort and peace. This is something you pray never happens to your family. We are very empathetic to his situation. I don’t know how someone can deal with that. That would be worse than anything you can imagine as a father.”