The founder of a veterans service group says the man authorities have identified as being fatally shot Monday during a traffic stop by police in Jefferson City was not a criminal and was suffering from several personal issues.
Jennifer von Gillern, president of Castle's Keeper- Mission 25 Inc. based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, said Clay Willingham, 32, of Moberly, had expressed an intention to kill himself days before the fatal shooting.
The shooting happened at 1:45 p.m. Monday between Capital Mall and the Walgreens store across the street on West Truman Boulevard, Highway Patrol Cpl. Kyle Green said. Jefferson City Police Department officers were conducting a traffic stop on a Chevrolet Suburban for having expired registration in the 3700 block of West Truman Boulevard, according to a news release.
"Preliminary investigation revealed that after stopping the vehicle, the two officers approached the passenger side of the Chevrolet," Green wrote in a news release. "At this time, the driver (Willingham) produced a rifle."
Green said the officers issued verbal commands, instructing Willingham to drop the rifle, but he allegedly ignored them.
"The officers, fearing for their safety, fired their weapons striking the suspect," Green wrote.
Willingham was pronounced dead at the scene. The officers were not injured.
The officer-involved shooting is being investigated by the Missouri Highway Patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control. The department also issued a news release Monday, saying it was an ongoing investigation and it was not releasing information on the shooting.
Von Gillern said the veterans organization — which provides financial assistance and support for active-duty service members, as well as wounded and disabled members — had been working with Willingham, who had served as a corporal in the U.S. Marines.
"Clay had every intention of hurting himself," von Gillern said. "I as well as many of my board members and Marines were working with Clay."
She said Willingham and many of the veterans she works with have been "let down by the Veterans Administration and federal government."
"These veterans do things you could not begin to imagine, only to have their name slandered," von Gillern said. "This now brings the death total in the battalion Clay served in to 31, 13 of those being suicides."
Von Gillern said she had stayed up 48 hours with Willingham trying to save his life.
"My last words to him were, 'I love you, and so do your brothers. We will get you through this,'" von Gillern said. "I was robbed of the opportunity to save someone's life, someone who I've never met.
"I told Clay that I would take it personal if he killed himself. He promised he wouldn't, but at the end of the day Clay didn't break that promise to me," she said. "He let the officers break that promise."
Green said he had no information on Willingham's background. He said the Highway Patrol investigation into the shooting could take up to a few months because toxicology reports can take time to complete.
"If he was suffering from mental illness, I'm sure the investigators will look into that," Green said.
The completed criminal investigation will be forwarded to the Cole County Prosecuting Attorney's Office for review. The prosecuting attorney will determine if any criminal action or further investigative action should be taken against the officers.
In most cases, the prosecutor in the county where the officer-involved shooting occurred handles the case, but he or she can request a special prosecutor be appointed. According to the JCPD policy manual, officers are put on paid administrative leave after an officer-involved shooting, pending the outcome of the investigation.
If an officer is found to have acted legally, justifiably and properly in the shooting, the officer will return to regular duty or special duty. If an officer is found to have acted improperly and without legal justification in the shooting, the officer may be suspended without pay pending the final outcome of any criminal proceedings or may be terminated.