On Saturday night, Sheila Hensen said goodbye to her daughter, Amber Dewitt, as Dewitt was leaving their house in Caldwell to spend the night at her boyfriend’s in Boise.
At 2 a.m., Hensen said she got a text from Dewitt, who said she was sorry for all the wrongdoings she’d ever done. And she loved her.
Just a few hours later, Hensen was startled by an unexpected knock at her door. She was told that early Sunday morning, Dewitt, 33, had been killed by Boise police after she allegedly pointed a weapon at officers.
“I don’t believe she was trying to hurt anybody,” Hensen said in a phone interview with the Statesman. “She was thinking about things, and truly felt sorry for the bad things she’d done. I don’t think she intended on going to Boise to get shot and killed.”
Dewitt had a long criminal history. Most recently, she had been charged on Oct. 8 in Canyon County with felonies for alleged forgery, burglary, drug use and being a regular violator — another charge itself. Her bond was set at $1,000. She got a loan to pay off the bond on Oct. 16, her mother said.
Hensen thought Dewitt was headed to her boyfriend’s house. But Sunday morning, Boise police found her around 6 a.m. “acting suspiciously and knocking on doors” in a neighborhood near Veterans Memorial Park, according to a Boise Police Department news release Sunday.
Dewitt was in a vehicle when she was approached by police officers, and “appeared to be reaching and moving things around in the vehicle,” the BPD release said. Police said she did not comply with requests to stop reaching for things, and eventually “produced a weapon” and pointed it at an officer.
“They could have shot just to stop her but instead they had to kill her,” Hensen said. “I don’t know why they had to shoot so many times. They don’t know how to stop, and they don’t know to give a person a chance.”
Hensen said she didn’t know that Dewitt owned a handgun. Dewitt’s 11-year-old daughter, Rylea, told Hensen that she’d seen her mother with a BB gun before.
“She shouldn’t have had it,” Hensen said. “She was scared. But I didn’t understand why.”
Hensen said she has asked to review body-camera footage from the shooting. She said that if she sees that Dewitt had not pointed a gun at police, she will consider taking legal action.
Two officers fired their weapons at Dewitt, both veteran members of the Boise police force. They are on paid administrative leave per department policy, and the incident is under investigation by a Critical Incident Task Force led by the Meridian Police Department. Among the task force’s work would be a review of the officers’ body-camera footage.
For now, Hensen said she is most concerned about taking care of Rylea and sheltering her from the onslaught of social media commentary and media coverage, all while having to plan and pay for an unexpected funeral.
“I’m angry. I’m hurt. I’m devastated,” Hensen said.
‘Haunted by demons’
Beyond her criminal past and beyond the time she spent in jail, Dewitt was fiercely loyal to her family, her mother said.
“She would have not hurt anybody,” Hensen said. “But she also wasn’t going to let anybody mess with her family. Nobody was going to mess with her family, and her daughter.”
Hensen has legal guardianship of Rylea. Dewitt lived on and off with Hensen and her husband — Dewitt’s stepfather — for some time.
“She loved to make people laugh,” Hensen said. “She was goofy sometimes.” Especially with her daughter, Hensen said, whom she took to the fair and baked with.
“She would do anything she could to help anybody,” Hensen said. “She just got caught up in the wrong people and doing wrong things.”
Dewitt grew up with two sisters, a stepbrother and stepsisters, and went to school in Caldwell.
For years, Dewitt also suffered from mental illness, including bipolar disorder, Hensen said. But she had limited resources to deal with her problems. She couldn’t hold on to a job, and relied on Medicaid for her health care costs, her mom said.
Hensen said Dewitt’s mental health had suffered over the past years, and she had turned to drugs to help her cope. Over the past decade, Dewitt was found guilty several times of drug possession and drug use, and theft.
“It’s not all about drug abuse, there are other factors, too,” her mother said. “She was haunted by demons, some mental things.”
Hensen said she believes that there should be more help for people such as her daughter.
“She was a good person deep inside,” her mother said. “She had a beautiful smile. She was contagious. Now I’ll never hear her voice again.”