Walter Scott was a hardworking forklift operator, a football fan (he loved the Dallas Cowboys), the outgoing middle brother from a close-knit religious family. “He was well-known and well-liked throughout the community,” Stanley Weldon, a member of his church, tells PEOPLE.
Memories of the 50-year-old Coast Guard veteran – and shock and outrage over his death – are all family and friends have to hang on to since North Charleston, S.C., Police Officer Michael Slager, 33, fired eight rounds, three of which hit him in his back, after Scott fled from a traffic stop April 4. The fatal run-in, captured by a passerby on his cell phone video camera, stunned a nation already grappling with a string of deadly police shootings of unarmed black men. “I know he’s 50, but he’s my child,” Scott’s mother, Judy, told NBC News of viewing her son’s last moments. “I saw him running like you would kill an animal…. It was too heartbreaking.” Those who study police tactics say there’s no apparent justification for the shooting. “Scott was not a threat at the time he was shot,” says Geoffrey Alpert, a criminologist and deadly-force expert at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
Unlike officials in other recent cases involving police shootings of African-Americans (see sidebar), police and prosecutors took quick action—arresting Slager, charging him with murder and firing him from the force. Slager’s attorney Andy Savage said he has initiated his own investigation; his mother, Karen Sharpe, 58, told The New York Times, “I can’t fathom that Michael would ever do anything to hurt anybody purposely.”
Whatever motivated Slager, it was left to Scott’s family and friends to make sense of a senseless death. (Scott, a divorced father of four who was engaged to be married, was behind in child support – which some speculated was the reason he fled when Slager stopped him for a broken taillight.) At Scott’s funeral on April 11, his daughter Samantha, 24, read a poem to the hundreds gathered at W.O.R.D. Ministries Christian Center in Summerville, S.C. “I cry every time I think about you,” she said. “Every breath I take, I’ll remember that you gave it to me.”