FLORISSANT • Police fatally shot a man in the basement of his home here after he chased his mother with a knife and lunged at officers trying to arrest him, authorities said Friday.
The man was identified as Elijah Smith, 25, of the 1400 block of Bay Meadows Drive.
It happened Thursday afternoon at the home he shared with his mother. Florissant Officer Steve Michael said Smith died at the scene.
Police Chief Tim Lowery said two officers fired a total of nine shots at Smith. The officers have 11 and 9 years on the force. He did not release their names.
Officials did not divulge the shooting until a reporter inquired Friday. Lowery said officers put their immediate focus on the investigation and informing the neighborhood but there was no public announcement Thursday. “In hindsight, it should be issued because of transparency,” he said.
Lowery also said, “Our officers acted in a professional manner and a man lost his life at the hands of law enforcement. However, when presented with the circumstances, we didn’t have a choice and we are grieving with the family.”
Michael, the department’s public information officer, described Smith as having “an unfortunate mental health issue.”
Smith had called police at 11:54 a.m. Thursday, “having a mental health episode,” Michael said. Michael did not elaborate on what Smith had said, but a source said Smith was threatening to kill his family.
When officers arrived at the home on Bay Meadows, near North Waterford Drive, they tried calling the number Smith had given them, Michael said. When Smith answered, an officer asked if everything was OK.
“No, nothing is OK,” Smith said, then hung up.
Smith’s mother came outside and told officers that her son was acting erratically and had chased her around the home with a knife.
Officers got other occupants out of the home safely; Michael said he did not have information about how many people there were, but he said none was a child and nobody besides Smith was hurt.
When police went in, Michael said, they announced themselves several times . They went into the basement and found Smith behind a closed door, refusing to come out. When they opened it, he held “a large hunting-style knife above his head.”
Smith ignored officers’ demands to drop it and came at the officers, Michael said. “He’s charging out of the room, with the knife still in his hands.”
Lowery said officers first tried to subdue him with a Taser and a bean bag projectile, then had to shoot.
“Officers didn’t have a choice with the large knife he had in his hand,” the chief added.
Department handling investigation
Michael said the shooting is being investigated in-house by the Florissant Police Department, and that no outside agency is doing a separate investigation.
Lowery said the last officer-involved shooting in Florissant happened years ago, and his department of 100 officers has always handled its own lethal-force investigations.
“We feel confident in investigating our own shootings, just like the city does and the county,” he said.
But Smith’s grandfather, Robert Smith, questioned on Friday evening whether the police response was excessive, referring to the number of times his grandson was shot.
“They were using him for target practice,” Robert Smith said. “I can imagine them being scared, but with their training … I just don’t understand.”
He said his family had been estranged for years after a divorce. He said he spoke with his children and grandchildren only occasionally on holidays and had spent very little time with Elijah.
Though Robert Smith said he believed his grandson was troubled, he said he was unaware of Elijah’s having been violent in the past .
The elder Smith said he felt something was amiss with his grandson when he spoke with him by phone at Christmas. He said Elijah had used inappropriate language with him in the conversation, which was unusual.
“I knew something was up with him. I said, ‘Son, I think you need to see somebody.’ He said, ‘I already am.’”
He also said he didn’t know how long Elijah had been receiving psychiatric help but believed it had been a few months.
Robert Smith said he had spent all Friday calling family members to understand what happened but never received an answer.
Jessica Stillman, 30, who lives adjacent to Elijah Smith’s home, said she was going out her front door Thursday when an officer on her driveway ordered her back inside.
“All of a sudden I heard five shots,” she said. “I freaked out and grabbed my kids and ran down the steps to my basement.”
She said there had never been any problems with her neighbors in the year and a half she has lived there. She said all the residents, including Smith, seemed nice.
Joel Currier, Christine Byers, Denise Hollinshed and Ashley Lisenby of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.