Matthew Conrad’s family is dealing with a particular grief.
The 34-year-old Hammett man was shot and killed by Elmore County deputies on Interstate 84 on Tuesday morning after they said he pointed a firearm at motorists and at them. But the family says this story is about a more complex situation involving a man with mental illness who didn’t get the help relatives had demanded for months.
“None of us (are) second-guessing what the cops did,” Carol Bates, Conrad’s aunt, said Wednesday. “What happened is what happened. But it could have been stopped many steps before that.”
Conrad’s mother and her family had been in contact with law enforcement several times during the past three months, asking them to help put Conrad into a mental health institution, Bates said. He was showing signs of slipping back into bad patterns and had stopped taking his medication. But law enforcement said they didn’t have cause to institutionalize him, Bates said.
“His mother has come over and over to try to help him,” Bates said. “And begging, begging for help from the state.”
Chief Deputy Mike Barclay, of the Elmore County Sheriff’s Office, was not available Wednesday afternoon for comment. The officer-involved shooting is under investigation by Idaho State Police.
Conrad’s mother was so watchful over him that she was on the phone with dispatch as he fled from police in a stolen pickup, crashed off I-84, ran across the freeway and allegedly attempted to carjack three vehicles at gunpoint — and as two words came over the scanner: “Man down.”
“She was on (the phone with) dispatch begging them literally to back off and stop and he would turn himself in,” Bates said.
The Sheriff’s Office has said Conrad was well known to them. He was on probation for five separate crimes and had two pending misdemeanor cases against him, according to online court records.
It was “no secret” that Conrad was suffering from mental illness, Bates said. He was on disability for it, had been through the mental health court system and had been treated in jail for mental health problems.
“I think someone who was very handicapped was shot by officers,” she said.
She said Conrad was too ill to fully comprehend what was happening.
“He had been saying that his demons were trying to get him,” she said. “When he started running (from deputies on Tuesday), he was absolutely terrified.”
Conrad’s mother, who lives in Idaho Falls, was too distraught to talk Wednesday, Bates said.
Megan Thomas said her brother loved the outdoors and enjoyed taking his son, Elijah, 5, fishing for crappie and perch. He also liked to go up into the hills to cut wood and to work on his home in Hammett.
“He was loving and loyal to a fault,” said Thomas, who lives in Park City, Utah.
She acknowledged his mental health issues and said the whole family had tried to help him. She said he had worked to rebuild his life.
Derek Bates, Conrad’s cousin, said the whole family is trying to wrap their heads around what happened as the grief hits them.
“The family is extremely shocked,” he said. “He was an absolute great person. We all loved him dearly.”