SEATTLE >> Charleena Lyles loved to sing and dance. She adored her four children. She always smiled, even when facing obstacles.
Friends and family members say the 30-year-old pregnant woman shot and killed by police this week was so much more than authorities’ account of an unstable person who confronted two officers with kitchen knives and had previous run-ins with the law.
The Seattle woman was kind and caring, and “if you met her, you would be drawn in,” said her older sister, Monika Williams.
“I don’t care what she was going through or what anybody was trying to bring on her, she would hit it with a smile,” Williams said.
Authorities noted the shooting happened less than two weeks after Lyles threatened officers with long metal shears, and family members expressed concerns about her mental health after that incident. Lyles also was arrested in 2014 for assault.
Williams described her sister as a strong, independent woman.
Lyles, whom relatives called “Leena,” grew up in Seattle and was largely raising two boys and two girls on her own — including a 4-year girl with Down syndrome — but she had a supportive network of siblings, cousins, aunts and others, Williams said.
“Her whole life was her kids,” said her father, Charles Lyles, who owns an income-tax preparation business and lives in Lancaster, California.
The youngest three children — ages 11, 4 and 1 — were home when Lyles called police Sunday morning to report a burglary.
Before arriving at Lyles’ apartment, the responding officers discussed Lyles’ June 5 encounter with police and noted an “officer safety caution” at the address. Two officers, rather than one, went to the apartment because of her prior history with police.
According to audio recordings released by police, Lyles and the officers can be heard calmly talking about someone taking her video game console.
But a confrontation erupted. There are sounds of rapid movement, the woman yelling “Get ready, (expletive)!” and the police repeatedly warning her to get back before five shots are fired.
The killing has prompted outrage among many, including Lyles’ family, who questioned why the officers couldn’t use nonlethal methods to subdue the petite woman, and suggested race played a role. Lyles was black; the officers were white.
“They’re trying to portray her as someone who wanted police to kill her — which is a bold-face lie,” her father said. “She called them for help. They ended up coming in and killing her.”
Police and the mayor say the shooting will be investigated and under the watch of a federal court monitoring team.
“This is a horrible tragedy on every front,” Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole told KING-TV in Seattle. “We will get to the truth. We will leave no stone unturned. We’re committed to that. We’ll conduct this investigation thoroughly.”
On June 5, Lyles was arrested and charged with obstruction and harassment after police say she refused officers’ orders to drop metal shears. Lyles had called police to report a domestic disturbance at her apartment. She was released from jail on conditions, and her case was referred to mental-health court.
Over the past year, Lyles had struggled with depression but was seeking help, according to family members and King County District Court records. She met with a mental health counselor last fall, and this year saw a family therapist with her children several times, court records show.
Lyles was “going through some things in her life,” said her cousin Kenny Isabell, a pastor.
“Her life wasn’t perfect, like none of us are,” he said. But she was attending his church regularly, and was making an effort to improve her life, Isabell said.
Lyles’ father, Charles, said Lyles was devastated when her mother died in 2005. She lived with various relatives over the years and with him in California, where the kids had friends up and down the street where he lived.
She didn’t have a home of her own until she recently moved into the apartment complex in northeast Seattle run by the nonprofit group Solid Ground. The family lived in permanent housing set aside for those who previously were homeless.
“She was so happy to get her own home,” he said.
Charles Lyles said his daughter liked to take her children to carnivals and do fun things with them. But she also worried they would be taken from her because an abusive ex-boyfriend, the father of the youngest children, was causing problems for her.
Lyles’ sister Tiffany Rogers told hundreds of mourners who gathered Tuesday night outside the apartment complex where Lyles was shot that she used to call Lyles every day. She said she will miss having that support.
Lyles’ father said he wants justice for his daughter, who liked to dress up and enjoyed playing little jokes on him.
“She’s a little bitty woman. And they shoot her to death in front of her kids?” he said. “They could have used other (less lethal) force.”