Note: This story was originally posted by our Seattle sister-paper the Stranger.
Those close to Charleena Lyles will tell you she bounded with energy.
“She was the life of the party,” said Trina Washington, a cousin who knew Lyles since she was 12 years old. The two were inseparable.
“She liked to go out. She liked to dance, sing. She was one of those people that would always be moving around like ‘Heeey!” said Monika Williams, Lyles’ older sister, snapping her finger and forcing a smile between sobs.
Domico Jones remembers Lyles, his older sister, chasing him and his siblings around their home in Seattle. “She was hella fast. She ran faster than she looks,” he said, sitting near the housing complex where she lived, overlooking baseball fields on a cloudy Father’s Day.
On Saturday, Lyles attended a birthday party for Williams’ daughter. The child’s birthday was in May but the celebration was delayed by a string of murders that claimed friends and family members.
After the party, Williams asked Lyles to spend the night at her house. But Lyles needed to go back to her Sand Point apartment to look after her son. One of Lyles’ daughters went home with Williams.
“I took my niece,” Williams said, shaking her head. “Thank God I took my niece to my auntie's house so she could stay the night with my other cousin.”
The next day, right around 10 a.m, Lyles life came to an abrupt halt.
Two Seattle police officers responded to a burglary call from Lyles, who told officers that someone took an Xbox from her home. The audio, taken from an officer’s dash cam, cuts in-and-out.
“Hey! Get back! Get back!” one of the officers can be heard shouting. “We need help,” one of the officers, maybe the same one, says into a radio. Movement. A child’s cry. Then: Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.
The final seconds of Charleena Lyles’ life. She was 30 years old and had four children. A fifth was on the way.
Over the coming days and months and years, Seattle will review those fateful minutes and seconds. Police investigators will look at the evidence, which include dash cam audio and video from hallway cameras. Protestors will demand accountability for yet another police shooting of a black American by white officers.
Seattle Police Department officials say Lyles brandished a knife before the shots went off. Lyles’ family question why the officers resorted to deadly force. “Even if my sister had a knife in her hand, she weighs like nothing, even if she's soaking wet,” Williams told The Stranger. “There's no way you could've taken a taser and taken her down? There's no way you could've taken a baton and knocked the knife out of her hand?”
On Sunday evening, at a vigil outside Brettler Family Place, the apartment complex where Lyles lived with her children, family members raised those questions again. Andre Taylor, the brother of Che Taylor, a black man who was fatally shot by police in 2016, announced a police accountability initiative called Deescalate Washington that addresses mental health and first aid training for police officers. About 200 Seattlites attended the gathering, some holding signs with calls to “say her name.”
“We can make sure she didn’t die in vain by bringing accountability to this state,” Taylor shouted, adding that James Bible, the same attorney who represented Taylor’s family, will also represent Lyle’s.
Alongside the demands for justice, family members used the occasion to remember Lyles’ life. Photos of her and her kids stood upright on chairs. Tea candles spread along the sidewalk spelled out the name Lyles used with friends and family: Leena.
Family members didn’t shy away from Lyles’ history with mental health issues. They also told the crowd that she had been in abusive relationships with men. To Williams, the two were interconnected.
“My sister shouldn’t have been going through mental health problems because she felt like she couldn’t get justice for domestic violence, and now they take her kids,” she said. Earlier, she told The Stranger that Lyles had an open case with child protective services.
“Worrying about losing her kids and dealing with the craziness of the baby's daddy caused her to have a mental breakdown,” she said. Less than a week before Lyles’ death, she was released from the King County Jail, where she had been held for 11 days on charges of harassment and obstructing a public officer. A spokesperson for the Seattle Police Department said she wielded a pair of scissors—“a weapon”—before that arrest, which also involved a dispute with her boyfriend.
Kenny Isabell, a cousin and pastor at The Way of Holiness Church of God in Christ, remembered Lyles as a religious woman who “came to my church on a regular basis, trying to get her life together.” Lyles had some issues, he said, but “she was a fine young lady. She was reaching out. She was seeking help and the system failed her.”
More than anything, family remembered, Lyles loved her children. When she became pregnant again, several months ago, Williams recalls trying to talk her out of having a fifth child.
“She told me, straight up, that she was going to keep the gift God gave her,” Williams said. “No matter the struggle, she was still going to be there for her kids.”
Watch footage of Lyles' memorial outside Brettler Family Place: