'As soon as they shot him up, we got swarmed': West Virginia family recalls the moments two officers interrupted a funeral and shot their nephew dead
- Jason Owens died after two police officers interrupted a funeral and fired multiple rounds at him, witnesses say.
- Two of Owens' aunts detailed to Insider the moments that led up to the shooting and the aftermath.
Jason Owens stood outside the Amos Carvelli Funeral Home in West Virginia, waiting for the moment he'd have to carry his father's casket into a hearse.
It was a warm Wednesday in late August, and the funeral was scheduled to begin at 1 pm. Owens had been there all morning, smoking and preparing for the day, his aunts — Sabrina Jones-Owens and Liz Owens — recently recounted to Insider.
When the time came for proceedings to begin, Owens was ready.
At around 2 pm, he had to take his father's casket to the cemetery. That's when chaos erupted.
Owens, serving as one of the pallbearers, had placed the casket into the hearse. Then he turned around and hugged his Aunt Evelyn with tears in his eyes, his two aunts recalled to Insider.
Suddenly, he heard someone shout out his name. He let go of the embrace and turned around toward the noise. Then two officers, who witnesses described in news reports and to Insider as having come out of nowhere, shot at Owens.
Then, he collapsed to the ground.
"He tumbled right in front of everybody," his Aunt Liz Owens recently told Insider in a phone interview. "Right in front of the funeral home."
The death of Owens' father had already stunned the family, Liz said. He died after having a sudden heart attack. "So we're all distraught over that," she said, "and then this happens," referring to Owens' shooting.
Witnesses who spoke with Insider said the officers — who were from the US Marshals Service — did not wear any immediately noticeable police gear. They had on only what looked like bulletproof vests, Owens' aunts Liz and Sabrina said.
The two women said they watched their beloved nephew die. It's unclear how many shots were fired, but witness accounts say multiple shots.
A GoFundMe started to cover Owens' funeral expenses says there were six shots fired. Liz told Insider she thinks she heard as many as 10 gunshots from both officers, all of them piercing Owens' chest.
'Bragging about the holes in him'
Liz and Sabrina said the two officers never identified themselves. They stormed the event, just shouting Owens' name.
"I mean, they could have said, 'We're the US Marshals, put your hands in the air,'" Liz said.
After placing his father's casket in the hearse, Owens was sobbing, according to Liz. So he turned around to face the officers because he heard his name out loud. But "he was crying so hard that he wouldn't have been able to see them anyway," Liz said.
Sabrina said the officers could have tried to apprehend him anytime that day because he had been standing outside for hours.
"Who would think somebody's going to get shot at their dad's funeral like that?" Liz added.
In a statement, the US Marshals said Owens had been wanted on a fugitive warrant but gave no details on what it was for. The statement also claimed the officers fired because Owens had "produced a firearm," which Liz and Sabrina disputed.
Liz and Sabrina also pushed back on the claim that the officers immediately administered first aid to Owens after having shot him.
The two officers approached Owens' body and told all funeral-goers who tried to see if he was okay to stay back, Liz and Sabrina recalled. Liz said she saw them use a knife to cut through Owens' shirt to count the bullet holes in his chest. Then they gave each other a thumbs up signal.
They were "bragging about the holes in him," she said. "That's what the effin cops did. I have never seen anything like it in my life."
No body-cam footage of the incident has been produced. In response to a freedom of information request from WOWK-TV asking for all body-cam footage in relation to the shooting, the West Virginia State Police said it's "not in possession" of any relevant records.
The family, however, is fervently seeking video footage of the day's events.
Minutes to the start of the funeral proceedings, all funeralgoers put their phones in their cars, Sabrina told Insider. "Because when you go in a funeral home, you don't take a cell phone in there for a service," she said.
A restaurant in the vicinity of the funeral home told the family their cameras weren't on that day, and the funeral home told the family their cameras weren't working.
"There was no cameras to be found," Liz said.
Sabrina said the family has received the runaround every time they've tried to talk to police. "Every time you call … it's still under investigation. That's what they tell us," she said.
When reached for comment The US Marshals Service directed Insider to West Virginia State Police, which did not respond to Insider's request for comment on Liz and Sabrina's accounts.
His dead body was on the ground for three hours, his aunts said
Owens had skipped out on updating his probation officer with his location that day. That day, his aunts recalled in emotional interviews to Insider, he had missed his probation check-in because he had really wanted to be there for his father's funeral.
Owens had received a prison sentence of three to 13 years in 2018 after fleeing from a sheriff's deputy, The Associated Press reported. Prosecutors reportedly said he had tried to strangle the deputy, and he was released on parole in April last year.
He was going to contact his probation officer immediately after the funeral, his aunts said. Owens and his father were best friends, his aunt Sabrina told Insider, so he didn't want anything to interrupt the day.
"That was his ride or die," Sabrina said. "His dad was like his right arm."
But the two officers made that moment — the honor of carrying and placing his father's casket into the hearse — even more dismal.
When he collapsed, Owens' body "laid there for three hours on that concrete thing behind my car," Liz said.
Sabrina added that the body was in the heat for hours because the officers threatened the funeralgoers if they were to approach it.
Liz's brother told the officers they were "going to go to hell" for what they did to Owens, she recalled. In response, one of the officers, Liz said, told her brother that he'd "blow [his] effing head off."
"I thought for sure he was going to kill my brother too," Liz said.
Sabrina said one of the two officers had also threatened her husband when he asked them to help Owens.
"They said, 'I told you to get back,' and my husband was yelling, 'Help him. Help him. He's dying.' And that guy looked us right in the eye, and he said, 'I said get back. Either you get back, or I'm going to effing kill you,'" Sabrina said.
When Owens collapsed to the ground, a team of officers arrived at the scene, Liz and Sabrina said.
"We watched him take his last breath laying there," Sabrina recalled.
"Once he was dead, they surrounded him," Sabrina added. "They started shooing us all back and taking that yellow tape" around the scene.
'You go to a funeral home, you're supposed to feel safe'
At times, Liz and Sabrina said Owens was an "ornery" person, but he always showed up for his family.
He always had a big smile on his face, Liz said. He would take his five kids fishing, and help his relatives with chores when they couldn't do them themselves.
"Everybody has skeletons in their closet, but Jason had a heart of gold. He did. He unconditionally loved his family, his kids, his uncles, his aunts, I mean, and he was there for everybody," Sabrina said. "All you had to do is pick up the phone, call, and say, 'Jay, I need help,' and he'd be right there."
"You go to a funeral home, and you're supposed to feel safe," Sabrina said. "And you don't. None of us do now."
Liz said she thinks the two officers should be jailed and forced to stand trial for murder.
"They pretty much just butchered my nephew," she said.
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