“She Begs For Help, And She Ends Up Dead”

The Oregonian, August 23, 1994

By Margie Boule.

Mary Bradley heard the young woman in the Fred Meyer store before she saw her. Mary had just gone through the produce department, gently squeezing the peaches, wrestling broccoli into a plastic bag, and was headed over to pick up some cheese, when she heard someone yelling. “Please help me! Call the police! Please help me! Call the police!” the woman called, like someone repeating a frantic mantra.

Margie Boule

Margie Boule

Mary says she and everyone else in the vicinity froze. “I think we were in a state of shock,” says Mary. “At first I thought she was a striker — we’d gone through the strikers out front when we came in, and there was no problem — maybe pulling a prank or something. Then I realized it wasn’t.”

Mary saw the shouting woman then. “She was maybe 5’4”, with short hair. She looked like she was in her 20s (in fact, the woman was 28), and she was holding a cat close to her, the way you’d hold a baby close.”

It was clear to Mary that there was something wrong with the person she still calls “the little girl.” “But she didn’t seem like a threat,” says Mary. Mary continued her shopping. “As I shopped, you could hear her yelling `Please help me. Call the police.’ We all heard it. But nobody panicked and ran out of the store. We all kept shopping. The cash registers were still open.”

As she walked up and down the store aisles, collecting items, Mary watched the Fred Meyer employees handle the situation. “They were excellent,” she says. “When I came to the pop aisle, a Fred Meyer employee had his arm up, blocking it. He said `The pop aisle is closed.’ And I saw her behind him, sitting on the floor. She had the cat in her arms, and I saw the knife then. It was amazing. You knew there was something wrong, like maybe she was on drugs or something. But a person on drugs would be more erratic. She wasn’t. She just kept asking for help.”

Mary decided someone must have been following the girl, outside, in a car. “And she’d run inside to try to get some help. I thought they’d call the police and it would be over with.”

That’s what happened. Only the young woman never got the help she asked for.

“I went around the other side of the aisle and I heard her say, `I’m mentally ill. But I’m not threatening anyone.’ She said that twice.” Mary moved her cart along.

By the time Mary had collected all 42 items that are listed on her grocery receipt, and paid — the receipt says it was exactly 1:19 pm on Sunday — the police had arrived. Mary stood with a cluster of people behind a cash register and watched.

“I saw two police officers standing at the end of the aisle with their arms crossed. Then I saw a policeman crouched down next to the little girl, talking to her.”

Mary decided the police officers were waiting for some kind of paramedic to come and talk to the young woman. She turned to leave the store. A woman with two small children asked if the police had arrived, and when Mary said yes, the woman said “Good.” Mary felt the same way; that now the woman would be taken care of. She left.

The district attorney’s office says the woman — whose name was Janet Marilyn Smith — was killed by a Gresham officer’s bullet just minutes after Mary Bradley went home.

When Mary heard about the shooting she was shocked.

“My first thought was, she didn’t have to die. It didn’t have to happen. Someone should have been able to talk to her, like the Fred Meyer employee did. I felt so saddened. I was sorry for her. She was so clearly asking for help.”

Mary acknowledges that she wasn’t there at the moment the police shot Janet Smith. “The police do what they have to do, and I have respect for them,” she says. But still. . .Mary has questions she’d like answers to.

On Monday morning she called the district attorney’s office, asking whether the police officer she saw crouched, talking to Janet Smith, had been trained in negotiation. She asked why medical personnel had not been called, since the woman had clearly said she was mentally ill. She asked why the woman hadn’t been shot in the leg, instead of the chest. The D.A’s office had no answers; someone there told her to call the Gresham police. But a Gresham detective said he wouldn’t answer her questions.

“I keep feeling she died needlessly,” says Mary. “None of us thought she was a threat — we kept right on shopping. She said she wasn’t a threat.

“A woman walks in. She says she’s mentally ill. She begs for help, and she ends up dead. To me, that’s a tragedy. I saw her alive less than one day ago. Did she need to die? Was it really necessary?

“I just want some answers.”