Father of alleged gunman says estranged son was 'self-medicating'
Ravell Call, Deseret News
OGDEN — The father of the man suspected of shooting six police officers in Ogden described his oldest son as having mental problems and "self-medicating" with marijuana.
"We were concerned for him. But there was just nothing we could for him. He wouldn't have anything to do with his mother or his father," Michael Stewart told the Deseret News Thursday.
He said his 37-year-old son, an Army veteran who lived alone, has been estranged from the family for some time.
Matthew David Stewart, his father said, worked graveyard shifts at Walmart and was likely sleeping when police arrived at his door about 9 p.m. Wednesday.
"If he woke up and there are people in his house, I'm sure he would react differently," Michael Stewart said, adding he didn't know his son had any guns. "I don't know that he had the intention of shooting any police officers."
Neighbor Jerri Johnson believed Matthew Stewart had lived in the Jackson Avenue home for several years. She described him as "friendly" and a person who would "say hello" if you saw him working in the yard. She said her ex-husband, an Iraq war vet, talked more to Stewart than she did. The fact the two were vets gave them something in common to talk about.
Johnson said she never noticed any red flags that would indicate something like the shooting could happen in her neighborhood.
Other neighbors said they rarely saw Matthew Stewart outside of his home.
Police said the alleged gunman has a limited criminal history. However, Michael Stewart said he's never known his son, who he said is shy and suffers from severe depression, to knowingly commit even a single crime.
"We're very upset about this," he said. "We're upset that an officer was killed."
A search of Utah court records indicates that Matthew Stewart has had a misdemeanor conviction of driving without insurance in 2005, and a seat belt violation in 2004.
Matthew Stewart joined the Army in 1994 and was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., until January 1996. He was then assigned in Germany, until he was discharged in December 1998, according to Army spokesman Troy A. Rolan Sr. During his service, Matthew Stewart maintained communications equipment and received the Army Achievement Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.
Rolan said Matthew Stewart's service came between the two wars in Iraq and the soldier was never on a battle deployment. Despite that, Matthew Stewart's father said his son was a "different person" after his military service.
"Before the war, he was a normal kid," Michael Stewart said. "We were closer then. I really don't know what happened."
He said his son was probably growing marijuana, but only for his own use. "He didn't want to get involved in the drug system, the illicit drug trade," Michael Stewart said.
"We're praying for him," he said early Thursday. "Maybe he'll get the help he needs now."
A couple of employees at Walmart in Riverdale, where Stewart worked overnight shifts, told the Deseret News they either did not know him or were instructed not to talk about him. A corporate spokeswoman for Walmart, who returned the call on Thursday, said Stewart had worked at the store for three years. Walmart said their hearts went out to the victims and they were cooperating with police.
Michael Stewart and his wife, Sonja, later issued a statement expressing their "deepest regret" about the tragedy. "So many of our lives have changed forever. We are so sorry for the families of all the officers hurt."
The family has offered whatever service they can provide to the county attorneys investigating the crime, but the concerned father is uncertain his son will speak to him.
"I think he's embarrassed," Michael Stewart said. "He didn't want to talk to us before. I don't think he'll want to talk to us now."
Contributing: Pat Reavy, Steve Fidel
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