Armed Man Tries to Enter Memphis Jewish School, Fires Shots Outside

The man, who was shot by police, is Jewish and a former Margolin Hebrew Academy student, according to various sources.
Published: August 1, 2023

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A gunman was shot and wounded by police Monday after he tried to enter a Jewish school and fired shots outside, according to officials.

Memphis Police were dispatched to Margolin Hebrew Academy-Feinstone Yeshiva of the South around 12:20 p.m. after receiving 911 calls about a gunman trying to enter the school, reports CNN. Surveillance video shows the man going through the pre-entrance double doors holding what appears to be a handgun. When he couldn’t gain further entry, he fired shots outside the school, said Assistant Chief Don Crowe.

In a letter to families, the school wrote that after the suspect tried to enter the school, he had a “brief confrontation” with a contract worker and fired two shots “while retreating from this worker.” The suspect then returned to his vehicle and left the property, “firing an additional two shots while leaving.”

School officials gave police a security photo of the suspect and said he drove away in a maroon Dodge Ram pickup truck with California plates. Around 1:30 p.m., Memphis police pulled over a vehicle matching the description about three miles from the school. The driver allegedly exited the vehicle holding a gun and, “for reasons still under investigation, the officer fired his service weapon, striking the individual,” according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). The suspect was then transported by ambulance to Regional One Health where he is in critical condition.

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During a press conference Monday afternoon, Crowe praised the school for its response to the armed intruder.

“Thankfully that school had a great safety procedure process in place and avoided anyone being harmed or injured at that scene,” he said. “I personally truly believe that we avoided a tragedy. I think this suspect was going to harm somebody before the day was over.”

Following the March shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, which claimed six lives, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed a bill to allocate $230 million in funding for school safety improvements. In part, the new law enacts a multi-tiered accountability plan to ensure exterior school doors are locked while students are present.

The school also praised the officers’ response in its letter to families.

“We are very grateful to all of the law-enforcement professionals who were quickly on the scene and played a big part in keeping our school safe, but above all, we are thankful to Hashem for his continued protection,” the letter reads. “We are pleased to reassure you that no one was hurt in any way, and our robust security measures did their job in protecting the school, as well as quickly and effectively leading police to the subject.”

Former Classmate: Suspect Struggled with Mental Health

Family and friends have identified the suspect as 33-year-old Joel Bowman, a member of the Jewish community and a former student at the school, according to WREG. A spokesperson for the Secure Community Network, an organization that collaborates with the school through the Memphis Jewish Federation, said the incident “was personal in nature.” A source briefed on the probe told ABC News that detectives are looking into the suspect’s social media posts and psychiatric history as well as his relationships with people connected to the school and the congregation.

Another former student told CBS that the suspect has struggled with his mental health for years.

“Genuinely to the core, I don’t think he would ever intentionally hurt someone,” she said.

The student said also Bowman’s father, a respected doctor who suffered from mental illness as well, was shot and killed by Memphis police during an incident 20 years ago.

The TBI is leading the investigation with assistance from the FBI. The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and the Bartlett Police Department helped in locating the suspect.

Margolin Hebrew Academy serves students from pre-K through 12th grade and has both day students and boarding students who live in campus dormitories.

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