Embedded: How Video Footage Of An Arizona Cop's Death Became A Police Resource A routine call in late 2014 turned deadly for a Flagstaff, Ariz., police officer, and now police are using the bodycam video for training.
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A Routine Call Goes Horribly Wrong And A Police Video Gets A Life Of Its Own

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A Routine Call Goes Horribly Wrong And A Police Video Gets A Life Of Its Own

A Routine Call Goes Horribly Wrong And A Police Video Gets A Life Of Its Own

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  • Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Hey, I'm Kelly McEvers, and this is EMBEDDED, an NPR podcast where we take a story from the news and go deep. And in our latest episodes, we're talking about police videos. There's the kind of police video most of us are used to seeing, where a civilian, usually an unarmed black man, is shot by police. But cops watch different kinds of videos, and we do not hear a lot about those. There's this one video that cops watch. Ever since I saw it, it has haunted me.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

MCEVERS: Because it's this totally routine call that goes horribly wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

TYLER STEWART: OK, yep.

MCEVERS: It's from December, 2014. It was taken from the body cam of a police officer in Flagstaff, Ariz. Watching it is like you are the police officer. You can't see him. You just see what he sees. The camera is actually on his glasses.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

STEWART: Alrighty.

MCEVERS: And here's what the cop knows at this point. A college student has called the police and said her boyfriend has damaged her apartment after a big argument. And Officer Tyler Stewart, who is white, has already gone to check it out and talked to the woman. Now he's back in his car and calling the boyfriend.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

STEWART: Well, don't worry about it.

MCEVERS: While he's on the phone, you can hear him asking if he can help.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

STEWART: Is there anything I can do between you guys? You need someone to change the keys or...

MCEVERS: He's also trying to go see the boyfriend in person and get his side of the story. At one point, it sounds like the boyfriend asks if he's in trouble.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

STEWART: Well, I don't know yet. I got to talk to you and I got to figure out what's going on. You haven't really told me too much about the rest of the apartment.

MCEVERS: They make a plan to meet up in a few hours, but Officer Stewart is already parked near the boyfriend's house. So he gets out of the car and starts walking there. And on the way, he radios in what he's doing.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

STEWART: I'll be making a quick stop at Clay Ave.

MCEVERS: It's not the best part of town. It's not the worst either. It's mostly low-rent houses and apartments. Stewart walks up an alley to a back door.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

MCEVERS: The roommate answers, then the boyfriend comes out. His name is Robert Smith. He's 28 years old. He's white. He's pretty skinny. His eyes and cheeks are kind of sunken. He's wearing a winter coat and looks pretty nervous.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

STEWART: Talk outside?

MCEVERS: Smith says, yeah, they can talk outside, but then he turns back inside. Officer Stewart follows him, not all the way. Smith goes into his bedroom for a second, comes out with a stocking hat on and his hands in his pockets. And then they go back outside.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

STEWART: All right. You don't have any weapons in your pockets or anything like that?

ROBERT SMITH: No, I'm just cold.

STEWART: OK.

MCEVERS: And then they just talk for what seems like a pretty long time. Officer Stewart wants to know about the damage to the girlfriend's apartment, like some nail polish that got spilled on the floor.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

STEWART: The polish?

MCEVERS: Some other stuff that got broken.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

STEWART: The pumpkin got knocked over.

MCEVERS: And you can see Officer Stewart look down at Smith's pockets. Smith still has his hands in there. Then he finally asks Smith if he can pat him down.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

STEWART: You mind if I just pat down your pockets real quick? You don't have anything in here?

SMITH: No, no.

MCEVERS: He reaches out.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

STEWART: OK, nothing in here?

SMITH: No, this is my smokes.

STEWART: OK.

MCEVERS: And then, out of nowhere, Smith whips a gun out of his pocket. It happens so fast you can barely see it. And the video just stops. Robert Smith shoots Officer Tyler Stewart five times, then shoots himself. And they both die.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: The facts of what happened that day are not in dispute. A guy shoots a cop and then shoots himself. Still, the video of what happened that day ended up having this afterlife. It's been seen hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube. It gets shared on Facebook groups and blogs all the time. Like I said, cops watch it a lot. Regular people watch it, too, and the relatives of the people who are in the video watch it.

So today we're going to do a couple of things. We're going to try to find out more about what happened that day, and we're going to try to find out why all these different people watch this video. Because what we really want to know is, what are they looking for when they watch a video like this, and are they getting the answers they need?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: OK, back to the video from Flagstaff. Like I said, cops watch this video a lot. It's the first time we know of that a cop's death has been filmed by his own body cam. Cops share this video with other cops, and they use it in training classes. So we go to one of these classes in Prescott, Ariz. That's about an hour and a half from Flagstaff, where the shooting happened.

JIM GLENNON: Jim Glennon, owner of Calibre Press.

MCEVERS: Jim Glennon is a former cop from the Chicago area who now trains police around the country.

GLENNON: Morning.

AUDIENCE: Morning.

GLENNON: So I got a little bit of a cold, so I'm going to fight through it with some tea and honey.

MCEVERS: Right now, he's in front of a hotel ballroom that's full of former and current police officers.

GLENNON: Thanks for having me here at your conference.

MCEVERS: Jim starts by talking about how civilians, like us, just don't get what cops deal with every day.

GLENNON: As much as the police are being demonized around the country right now, when the gunfire starts at a Wal-Mart and everybody's running out, who's running in? The cops. This isn't an eight-hour course about how to shoot people. This course is about how to serve people while staying alive.

MCEVERS: And then Jim starts playing videos, lots of videos of people getting shot. Let me just say, it is not easy to sit there and watch this happen over and over. First, it's videos of cops shooting people. Jim makes it clear most of the time, they do this because they think their lives are in danger. It's not like they want to shoot people, Jim says. They want to protect themselves and other officers. They want to go home at night. This is what they mean when they say blue lives matter. The next thing Jim does is play videos of cops getting shot, and the idea is to show how bad it can really get.

GLENNON: This one just came out about a week or so ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #1: Hang on, hang on.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #2: Drop your gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUN SHOTS)

GLENNON: He shot two police officers, and most you missed the whole thing. If you blinked, you missed it. These are the best of the best. These are SWAT guys. They've got guns on them. And he shot two police officers.

MCEVERS: The point Jim's trying to make is this - cops have to be prepared for this kind of thing to happen.

GLENNON: One more - this is quick one and you'll - I'll get you your break. Thirty-one years on, he makes a traffic stop for a DUI.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #3: Turn it off.

GLENNON: Just normal thing, walking up.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUN SHOTS)

MCEVERS: In this one, the suspect gets out of the car, shoots the cop, then runs away.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUN SHOTS)

GLENNON: That's him shooting at the guy as he ran away. Don't be in a position you have to use deadly force. But most of the ones I just showed you are just normal routine things, right? Take a break.

MCEVERS: After the break, Jim talks about the video from Flagstaff, of Officer Tyler Stewart and Robert Smith.

GLENNON: This is a very, very common thing we do.

MCEVERS: He walks through what happened. The girlfriend calls the police and says Robert Smith has messed up her apartment. Officer Tyler Stewart goes to talk to Robert Smith. And Jim plays a local news report about the shooting. And in that report, they show the end of the video.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SMITH: No, this is my smokes.

STEWART: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The video, too graphic to show from here, but Flagstaff PD says you hear gunshots and the camera goes to the ground.

MCEVERS: Jim waits, lets it sink in that Tyler Stewart has just gotten killed. The people in the room sit there for a minute. And then he makes his point.

GLENNON: People are programmed to believe violence is what they see on TV. The music starts to well up, you got a different camera angle. You know the guy's a bad guy. But in real life, it happens in the blink of an eye.

MCEVERS: There's no ominous music to clue a police officer into what's about to happen, Jim says. It can all change in a second.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: That's why he says cops need to see videos like this. They need to be prepared for the worst all the time. I mean, in a way, you could see it as police propaganda, like, look, this is what can happen, so we have no choice but to shoot sometimes. But then you watch these things. And you're like, well, yeah, but sometimes there are dangerous people out there, and you do have to protect yourself. We should say, though, it is very rare for cops to get shot and killed on the job. They're more likely to die in crashes on the road.

And so there's a danger that videos like these could make them more paranoid than they need to be. And then there's this other thing I can't stop thinking. This video shows the last seconds these two people were alive, and now it's being watched in a badly lit ballroom by people drinking Starbucks and eating danishes. What I want to know is, is that hard for the relatives of Tyler Stewart and Robert Smith? Turns out, it is not all that hard for Officer Tyler Stewart's dad. He was a cop, too, for 28 years. And as horrible as this video is, he says he's OK with the fact that it's being watched in hotel ballrooms around the country. He says what happened to Tyler changed the way he thought about policing, too.

Frank? Hi, I'm Kelly.

FRANK STEWART: Nice to meet you.

MCEVERS: Nice to meet you.

STEWART: Come on up.

MCEVERS: Frank Stewart is a big dude. He lives in a log cabin house with his wife in the woods, a few miles outside of Flagstaff. It's actually a house he and Tyler were building together. There's a whole row of American flags on the front porch.

So you've got eight flags here.

STEWART: Uh-huh.

MCEVERS: And are these...

STEWART: Those are blue line flags for fallen officers.

MCEVERS: Blue line flags. That's an American flag that's black, white and blue. It's a symbol for the Blue Lives Matter movement, and they also represent officers killed in the line of duty.

And you have two.

STEWART: Yeah.

MCEVERS: One for Frank's son Tyler and one for Frank's best friend, a state cop who was killed when he was rear ended by another car. Turns out Tyler Stewart comes from a family of cops - Frank, Frank's brother, Frank's son-in-law and Tyler's grandfather. When he was younger, Tyler would ride around with his dad and later worked as a bouncer. By the time he was killed, he was 24 years old and had been a cop for seven months.

And how did - did he like it?

STEWART: He loved it, loved every day.

MCEVERS: Yeah.

STEWART: Told me he never had a bad day.

MCEVERS: Frank was a state cop and Tyler was a local cop, but they worked the same shift. And they'd have lunch almost every day.

Where did you guys go to lunch?

STEWART: His favorite place was Chipotle. He ate there every day.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) Really?

STEWART: Yeah.

MCEVERS: And so were you working the day it happened?

STEWART: No, I'd actually taken that day off to put together a retirement party for a guy that worked for me. So I wasn't working that day. Otherwise, I'd have been with him on that call because it was right around the corner from where my office is.

MCEVERS: How would you have gone out on a call with him?

STEWART: Oh, he would have called me. He called me probably four or five times that day. He told me what he was doing. He told me where he was going, that he was going to arrest this guy and what had transpired throughout the day. So I probably would have gone over there with him.

MCEVERS: Is that normal protocol? Or you guys would just do that because you're, you know, related?

STEWART: We'd back each other up all the time. But he was my son, so he'd tell me, hey, I'm right by your office. You want to come over here? And I didn't mind doing that.

MCEVERS: Do you think about that a lot, that you would have been there?

STEWART: Every day, every day.

MCEVERS: How does that sound like in your head?

STEWART: It's kind of hard. But, you know, I got a strong faith in God, and I knew that was Tyler's time to go. So it wouldn't have mattered if I was there. He probably would have died right then anyway. Just one of those things.

MCEVERS: A few days after the shooting, police sit Frank down and show him the video.

Is that the only time you ever watched it?

STEWART: No, I've watched it three times.

MCEVERS: Around that time or more recently?

STEWART: More recently. I watched it about three months ago.

MCEVERS: How come?

STEWART: Just wanted to see it.

MCEVERS: What are you looking for, you know, or...

STEWART: I don't know. Just to hear his voice again, I think.

MCEVERS: I want to know if the video has come to mean anything to Frank. Like, has it helped him understand what happened or why it happened?

Don't be offended, but do you look at it and think that there's anything that could have gone differently when you look at that video?

STEWART: Oh, I think absolutely Tyler made some mistakes that day. And I'm not afraid to say that because that's going to help other officers that go into that situation, and that's what Tyler would want. He just - he made a couple of errors and...

MCEVERS: Like what?

STEWART: The first one is he allowed the kid to walk back in the house, and the kid disappeared for a minute. And I believe that's when he went and got his gun. And he came back out and had it in his coat, so.

MCEVERS: I had thought about whether Tyler made some mistakes that day. I'm pretty surprised to hear Frank say so. Frank says Tyler also could have drawn his weapon first, and he could have called for backup. When he saw Robert Smith reach into his pocket, he could have acted more defensively. Frank says the reason Tyler didn't know to do any of this stuff is he just didn't have enough experience. Experienced cops would have been more on guard.

Just like Jim Glennon said in that hotel ballroom, the key is to be prepared for the worst. Frank says Tyler was a really nice guy who just didn't think that way. Now he says he hopes this video will help other cops be more skeptical. But then Frank says thinking the worst can get in your head, too.

STEWART: I never went back to work after that day.

MCEVERS: How did that - I mean, you just...

STEWART: I just - I couldn't go back. I didn't think I could be a good cop anymore. It just - it gutted me, and, you know, my whole thought process was different, so.

MCEVERS: Oh, like, even - you just weren't sure of yourself in the field.

STEWART: I mean, I was sure of myself. I just - I didn't think I could be a good cop anymore, that I would - that I'd always look for the bad in people. And I didn't want to be that way.

MCEVERS: These days, Frank spends his time working on the house and hanging out in his basement bar with Tyler's buddies.

Oh, wow. You guys built this?

STEWART: Yeah.

MCEVERS: Oh, my gosh.

The bar is like a shrine to Tyler.

Just looking at all the pictures of him and plaques and medals and poems and the American flag, his uniform and his handcuffs and his badge.

Another Flagstaff police officer is there. His name is Ryan Coons. He says this shooting and this video have definitely changed the way the department does things.

RYAN COONS: So one of the things that we did - when Tyler called in, he said he was going to be out on follow-up, and then he went and talked to this guy. So what we've done since then is when officers check out on follow-up, they have to get with dispatch and let them know, are you going to follow up with the suspect? Or are you following up with the victim?

MCEVERS: If they're following up with the suspect, he says, they now have to have backup. They can't go alone. As horrible as Tyler's death was, Ryan Coons says his colleagues are glad they could learn from it. After a while, I say goodbye to Frank and head to the place where Tyler was killed with Ryan Coons. And it is so weird seeing it for the first time.

Can we just walk a little - is it OK to walk down here a little bit?

I'm almost scared. The only time I've seen this place is in a horror movie.

Oh, that's the - oh, my gosh, yeah, that's the house.

Now it's just this normal looking thing.

Just off to the side more?

COONS: Uh-huh, right in here by the door.

MCEVERS: I walk down that alley again later with Tyler Stewart's sergeant at the time. His name is Clint Hill. He was on duty the day Tyler was shot, and he describes how it went down.

CLINT HILL: One of the first guys on scene, Officer Hemp (ph) had said that he - we have an officer down.

MCEVERS: And when he's talking, I notice something about the way Clint describes it.

HILL: And they couldn't see the - the bad guy was essentially laying right here in the middle of the concrete.

MCEVERS: I know a lot of cops do it, but he keeps referring to Robert Smith as the bad guy. The bad guy was over here, and we moved the bad guy - makes me wonder what Clint Hill knows about the bad guy. Like, did this shooting or this video make him curious about who the bad guy was?

How much do you want to know about that person after something like this happens?

HILL: I was curious a little bit. Like, I mean, mainly I was curious, like, why he would do it. I don't even know his name. I think his name was Robert. I don't even know. And I looked up what we had on him, and he had very few interactions with the police department. But at that point, it doesn't really matter to me what - other than why. I wanted to know why. Like, tell me something. Give me an excuse, something, I don't know why.

MCEVERS: Do you feel like you got any satisfying answers?

HILL: No, not at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: So Clint doesn't really want to know all that much about Robert Smith. Frank Stewart said something similar, too. We do want to know more about Robert Smith, so we go find some of his people and talk to them. We want to know more about what happened that day. Like Clint Hill, we want to understand why this happened. And we want to know how Robert Smith's people feel about the fact that this video is being played in ballrooms. That's coming up after the break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: So we are talking about this haunting video that cops share with each other to show how dangerous their jobs are. But what we don't know from watching the video is what else happened that day and why did it happen. And the reason we're asking this is, now that we have these body cam videos, we think they give us more information than ever before. But the question is, do they?

The people who knew Robert Smith called him Bobby or even just Bob. He grew up in Prescott, Ariz. In high school, he was in the marching band, and he got arrested once for having a joint. His friends say he did some time in juvie. He moved to Flagstaff in his 20s. He worked in restaurants, then sold antique coins online. By 2014, Bob's girlfriend was Anna Caldron. She was the first one to call the cops the day of the shooting. I went to see her at her apartment in Flagstaff.

ANNA CALDRON: And so when I was - I had just turned 20.

MCEVERS: Anna and Bob had been dating for six months. She was a junior in college and, like I said, he was 28. On Christmas, 2014, they both go home to see their families. And the day after Christmas, Anna stops to pick Bob up on their way back to Flagstaff, and he has a surprise for her.

CALDRON: He actually had gotten me a ring for Christmas that he gave me, like, there on the porch at his parents' house. So that was - you know, I was all, you know, jittery and butterflies. And, like, I thought that everything had gone great.

MCEVERS: It wasn't an engagement ring, but it was a really pretty ring, like from a jeweler.

CALDRON: I was kind of like, wow, this is really nice, you know? And it just seemed like we had both had, you know, a really good time at home with our families.

MCEVERS: Except for this one thing. Bob had a really bad toothache over Christmas, a toothache that had actually been going on for months. A dentist had recently told him two of his teeth were rotten and needed to be pulled, but Bob didn't have insurance. And he told his friends it would be too expensive. So that night, Anna and Bob go back to Flagstaff to her apartment. Bob's up most of the night in pain. In the morning, Anna's like, I thought you said you were going to do the dishes, and Bob gets upset. He goes into the bathroom, knocks over a set of drawers and comes back into the kitchen.

CALDRON: And, you know, was stomping around, just angry and still yelling and still, you know, telling me how unreasonable I was being. And I know he went, like, into the laundry room and slammed the laundry room door. And it, like, broke off the hinges. And he grabbed the refrigerator and tried to, like, pull the refrigerator over. But, you know...

MCEVERS: He wrecked some more stuff, says they're breaking up. And then he leaves with his stuff. Anna doesn't want him to walk home, so she follows him and gives him a ride. She figures she'll drop him off, and he'll eventually calm down. Then Anna goes back home to get ready for work. She talks to a friend and to her mom, and the consensus is she should probably call the police. She's worried her landlord will charge her for the damage to the apartment. So she figures she should get it on the record that Bob was the one who did the damage.

(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)

HEATHER: Flagstaff Police, this is Heather (ph).

MCEVERS: You can hear how upset she is on the call.

(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)

CALDRON: My boyfriend just kind of went crazy. And he broke a bunch of stuff in my house.

MCEVERS: And we should say this happened with Bob once before with a previous girlfriend back in 2009. They got in a fight. It wasn't physical. But records show three officers came to his apartment. Bobby was arrested for domestic violence and criminal damage. He spent a night in jail but then was not charged.

(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)

STEWART: He didn't hurt you or anything, right?

CALDRON: No. He didn't hurt me. But he was yelling, like...

MCEVERS: Not long after Anna made her 911 call to police, Officer Tyler Stewart comes to her door.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

STEWART: Hi. Anna?

CALDRON: Yeah.

STEWART: Hi. Officer Stewart. Is it all right if I come in?

CALDRON: I just remember, you know, opening the door. He was super nice. He told me that he had a camera on his glasses that he was going to use to, you know, take pictures as he was walking through.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

CALDRON: These drawers were all knocked over and on the floor over here.

And I kept just trying to make sure as I was talking to him, like, I don't want to, like, press charges against him or anything. Like, I'm not - I really just want the damage to be assessed and to have, like, an account that this happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

CALDRON: I don't want it to be the end of the year and they tell me I have to pay $500 to replace the carpet when I didn't cause that.

STEWART: OK.

CALDRON: He said, I am going to need to talk to Bob about what happened. You know, I can't - I'm legally obligated to, you know, follow up with him and get in contact with him. I can't just take the report from you and let it go. And I was kind of like OK, you know, I was not expecting you to have to do that but OK, I guess.

MCEVERS: Anna shows Tyler where Bob lives and then goes home. Tyler goes to Bob's house. And Bob's roommate, Joe Rivard, answers the door. I went to see Joe on a ranch where he lives in rural Arizona.

JOE RIVARD: I went out back and said, Bobby, there's an officer here to talk to you. He was like, tell him I'm not here. Tell him I'm not here. And he was very upset. He was very frantic.

MCEVERS: So Officer Tyler Stewart leaves. Then, Joe says, Bobby starts going through all his stuff, calling people, crying.

RIVARD: He looked like he was in agony. He looked pale as a ghost. And I thought, wow, this is serious. I didn't know what to think.

MCEVERS: Joe tries to calm him down. But it doesn't work. It's at this moment that Joe really starts to worry about Bobby. Bobby had talked to Joe about killing himself before. And during that 2009 incident with the previous girlfriend, police say Bobby told his mom and the girlfriend he wanted to kill himself. The police gave him a mental health evaluation and confiscated six guns he had in his apartment.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

MCEVERS: So back to that day. Joe and another roommate named Eric (ph) start messing around in the kitchen trying, to make themselves useful. And then Officer Tyler Stewart calls Bobby.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE CALL)

STEWART: Is there anything I can do between you guys?

MCEVERS: And Officer Stewart comes back to the house.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

MCEVERS: This is what's on the video. Now we can hear about what happened from Joe, too.

RIVARD: I think Eric answered the door. And Bobby came. And they had a few words. And then Bobby came back in I think and was kind of in his room. And they went outside. And it sounded like just a normal conversation. And then, you know, there was a - you could hear a struggle. And you could hear gunshots. And we just hit the floor because we were probably, I don't know, like 10 feet away. I was in shock. I was in shock, complete shock. I was terrified. And Eric told me to call 911. So I frantically called Mom.

(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)

RIVARD: Oh, my God.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: How many people were shot?

RIVARD: I think the cop and my roommate, Robert Smith.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: Robert Smith?

RIVARD: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: One moment.

RIVARD: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

MCEVERS: Joe didn't watch the video of that day until recently. He says he does not like thinking about people watching it in ballrooms or on YouTube.

RIVARD: It feels invasive. It feels strange, very strange, very surreal, you know. If people can learn from it, then I understand. But people just watching something to kind of - like, for a spectacle, you know, for the same reason I would watch "Cops." It feels a little sick.

MCEVERS: Anna Caldron, Bobby's girlfriend at the time, has not watched the video. And she says Bobby never talked about suicide with her. As for why Bobby shot Tyler Stewart, did the pain in his tooth drive him crazy? Was he so afraid to go to jail that he just snapped? Was it a combination of the two? Eventually Anna stopped asking herself why.

CALDRON: At some point, I gave up on trying to, you know, rationalize it in that way and just kind of had to accept that I'll never know exactly what was going on in his head. No one will. And the best thing I can do is just try to not think about him in that way and not think that that was who he was as a person. Because up until that moment, I don't think he was a terrible person.

MCEVERS: Taylor Mahoney was Bobby's best friend. They've known each other since high school.

TAYLOR MAHONEY: We met - I would have been 15.

MCEVERS: Taylor lives in Flagstaff, too. I went to see him at his house. Taylor says he knew Bobby had a gun. But he didn't really think much about it. Taylor says he and Bobby would go shoot at tin cans in the woods all the time...

MAHONEY: And just go, you know, plink at targets in the forest or whatever. I mean...

MCEVERS: Taylor wasn't in town the day of the shooting of Officer Tyler Stewart. He and Bobby were texting. Bobby told him he was in pain, and he was afraid of going to jail.

MAHONEY: You know, he's like, oh, Anna called the cops on me, you know, and, like, now I'm a fugitive from the police.

MCEVERS: Taylor says he waited about six months before he watched the video of what happened between Bobby and Tyler Stewart. It was late at night. And he'd kind of been preparing himself for it. When he watched it, he immediately regretted it.

MAHONEY: It was just like disillusioning. It just - it was just sickening to watch, really. I mean, it just made my stomach turn. Having known him so well and for so long and spent so much time together, I mean, that was not Bobby in that video. He was shifty and kind of funny. And it was like - it just didn't sound like him, didn't look like him.

MCEVERS: And then there were the internet comments, people saying Bobby must have been on major drugs because he was so skinny and because the whole tooth thing. We should say there is no evidence Bobby did drugs other than smoke pot. Taylor says the fact that the video is out there and people can watch it whenever they want means the worst day of his life will just keep playing on loop over and over, never really end.

MAHONEY: It can't really - it's never going to be laid to rest fully. I mean, it's - there really can't ever be any closure in this. It's on the internet now. It's just like - it'll never not be in people's face.

MCEVERS: Taylor says even worse is living in the town where this happened. Flagstaff is only 70,000 people. Everybody knows about the day Bobby shot Tyler and himself. There are memorials to Tyler Stewart all over town.

MAHONEY: Some of the local bars who have some photos of him up and, you know, in memory. There's a memorial over by the old house, obviously. Most of the parades - there's a big huge banner float that has a big picture of Tyler, you know, in memory of fallen hero.

MCEVERS: And that's good, Taylor says. It's good for a police officer to be honored like that. It's also just hard.

MAHONEY: Every time you see something like that, it's just another reminder of just how horrible this incident was and how you just have to re-experience the pain all the time, every day. And I hate to even think of it like us and them too much. But, I mean, but it is like, yeah, I mean, you - not that grief should, like I was saying, not that grief should be like super public per se or that it has to - that I have to have, like, lots of people, you know, like, feeling bad for me and my pain, but there's no public outlet for it.

His acts were monstrous. But he wasn't a monster. And there's no, you know, if I made a big post, you know, in loving memory of Bobby Smith and hung it up over there, I bet you it gets torn down. But, you know, it's still just kind of weird to, you know, have all these public reminders. And you have to, like, remember that you're on the side of the enemy.

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MCEVERS: I talked to two other people about Bobby - his sisters. They don't live in Flagstaff. And they didn't want me to use their names or say where they do live. Basically, they don't want people to know they're the sisters of the bad guy. Most of their friends and colleagues don't know what happened. They say they didn't really even have a funeral for Bobby. They just did a quiet service at their mom's house. The younger sister says they were afraid there'd be protests.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: So we tried to keep it super hush-hush. And a lot of people wanted to come. And we told them they couldn't. And I think that's really sad, too.

MCEVERS: The family was able to remember Bobby more formally later at a wedding.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Oh, is this the...

MCEVERS: This is the three of you?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #: That's right before.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: This is the actual Christmas.

MCEVERS: The sisters show me pictures of Bobby in a book where people wrote memories about him. This is not the guy from the horror movie. He looks kind of like a goofball. The sisters say he was really funny. Especially that Christmas right before he died, everything seemed normal except for the teeth. Bob showed them to his younger sister.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: So he came home. And his teeth were just getting worse and worse. And I looked at them. And they were, like, black and rotten. And they were really gross. I mean, I thought I was going to puke when I saw it. And they smelled. So that whole Christmas he was just in the bathroom flossing and rinsing out his mouth. And he tried taking painkillers. Nothing helped. And he was in so much pain, he just - he wasn't sleeping. For at least four nights, when I was with him, he didn't sleep at all. He barely ate even at our Christmas dinner. And my mom made us like a delicious meal. And he was like barely touching anything.

And the last night he was home with us, he was really miserable and kept getting up and walking through my room to go to the bathroom. And I said, Bobby, do you want me to just take you to the emergency room? And he said it's fine, no, I'm going to go on Monday. And then all of this happened on Sunday.

MCEVERS: All this, she means, the shooting. When I first got in touch with the sisters, they did not know the video was being used in police training courses. They were pretty weirded out by the idea that this horrible moment is being played all over the country. But they also say they're glad if it can help people. And for them, the video means different things. The older sister says she wanted to see it. She says it actually helps her understand what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #: I watched it the day it was released.

MCEVERS: Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #: 'Cause, like, I had to know. I'm one of those people. I always have to know. I Google everything. I always have to go read, like, the Wikipedia article about, you know, if I watch a documentary, I go do more research after. So I couldn't not watch it.

And, I mean, I'm glad that I did watch it because while I wish I didn't have those memories, and I wish I could forget them, like, and I wish I didn't think about them ever again, I know that the person that I saw in that video was not my brother. And I'm glad that I saw that so that I could know that in my heart that that was not the fun, happy brother that I, you know, grew up with and that I love.

MCEVERS: The younger sister says it's way more complicated than that. And no video is going to help her understand.

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MCEVERS: That's the thing with these videos. They are the last moments these people were alive. And because of that, we want them to mean something. And sometimes they just don't. Or even if they do, they mean a bunch of different things to different people.

For the cops, a video like this can be a way to justify what they do. For Frank, Tyler's dad, it's comfort, a way to hear Tyler's voice one last time and a way to remind himself that it's all up to God. For Taylor and Joe, it's this constant loop of the worst day of their lives.

So, yeah, video like this can help people. And it can hurt people. It can fill in the blanks or create more blanks. It can give us some closure. Or it can remind us there are some things that can't actually be explained.

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MCEVERS: Before we get to the credits, I need to say this. If someone you know shows warning signs for suicide, experts say do not leave the person alone. Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects. If you're in the States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. And if you can, take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional. We have more information at n.pr/embeddedflagstaff.

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MCEVERS: OK, now the credits. This episode was reported by me and produced by Tom Dreisbach, Jonathan Hirsch and Chris Benderev. It was edited by Sean Cole, Maggie Penman, Yowei Shaw and Neal Carruth with help from Martin Kaste, Denice Rios, Becky Sullivan, Vicky Valentine, Abby Wendle, Michaeleen Doucleff, Steve Drummond, Rebecca Herscher and Gillian Ferris.

I want to say a very big thank you to the families and friends of Tyler Stewart and Robert Smith, also to NPR member station KNAU and the Flagstaff Police Department.

Digital production for this episode was by Alexander McCall, fact checking by Greta Pittenger. Our technical director is Andy Huether. Our theme song is by Colin Wambsgans. Other original music is by Jonathan Hirsch. EMBEDDED is executive produced by me, Chris Turpin and Anya Grundmann. Our lawyer is Ashley Messenger. Our events manager and spirit guide is Joanna Pawlowska.

EMBEDDED will be live here in LA on March 30. Tickets are at nprpresents.org. Get them now while you can. You can hear more NPR on your local public radio station on another show I host called All Things Considered.

Also check out "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook. I was on the show this week. Listen to the "On Point" podcast or go to onpointradio.org. Next week on EMBEDDED, we look at one more police video. This one is pretty different.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You're assessing the situation second by second by second. And at some point in time, you make decisions - shoot, don't shoot.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I have a theory on why I didn't kill him.

MCEVERS: What is it?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I think a lot of it has to do with the media and the portrayal of police officers shooting people. That was in the back of my mind.

MCEVERS: In that moment?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: In that moment. I mean, it was in my mind enough that I was thinking see the gun, see the gun, don't kill him till you see the gun.

MCEVERS: If you haven't done it, yet subscribe to EMBEDDED and leave a review. We're also on Twitter @nprembedded. OK, that's all. I'm Kelly McEvers. Thanks for listening.

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