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Memphis judge maintains $1 million bond for man charged with firing shots at Jewish school


MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A judge on Monday declined to reduce a $1 million bond for a man charged with shooting at a contractor at a Jewish school in Memphis, after his attorney requested a lower amount to allow him to secure his release and get proper mental health treatment outside of jail.

Shelby County Judge James Jones Jr. maintained the bond amount after new details emerged during a court hearing about the day authorities said Joel Bowman went to the school he had previously attended with a gun. Witness testimony revealed he went to the home and office of his former school basketball coach, and to another school, on the day of the shooting.

Bowman, 33, has pleaded not guilty to charges including attempted second-degree murder, carrying a weapon on school property and aggravated burglary.

Authorities said Bowman was armed when he went to Margolin Hebrew Academy-Feinstone Yeshiva of the South on July 31, but he was denied entry. Class was not in session, but a limited number of staff and construction workers were there.

Police said Bowman walked around the exterior of the school and fired two shots at a contractor, who was not hit. Bowman then fired two more shots outside the school before driving away, police said.

Officers tracked down Bowman a short drive from the school. He exited his pickup truck and pointed the gun at an officer, who shot him in the chest, police said. Bowman was hospitalized in critical condition and has since recovered.

Bowman’s confrontation with police came 20 years after his father was fatally shot by officers while holding a gun during a mental health episode at the family home. A friend has told The Associated Press that Bowman was traumatized by his father’s death.

Bowman is being held at the Shelby County Jail. During Monday's hearing, his lawyer, Lauren Massey Fuchs, asked the judge for the amount to be reduced to $80,000 to $100,000.

Fuchs argued that Bowman suffers from a mental health condition and would receive much better treatment outside jail. She also said the judge could order house arrest and GPS monitoring, which could keep Bowman from threatening anyone.

Fuchs presented letters of support from friends of Bowman, telling the judge that he has a strong support system that would ensure he makes his court appearances. Bowman's mother, Susan Bowman, said her son would live and work on their farm in rural Stanton and he would comply with mental health treatment if released.

Susan Bowman read a letter of support from Ariav Schlesinger, who called Bowman a kind, pure-hearted and selfless person whose mental health condition led to the “isolated" incidents for which he has been charged. Schlesinger attended the Orthodox Jewish school with Bowman but he has since to move to Israel.

“It's a tragedy that fate would have a soul like Joel's endure what he did throughout his life,” the letter said. “One of our best was dealt a hand that no one should be expected to play.”

Leaders of Margolin School, which runs from pre-kindergarten through high school, have said safety measures installed over recent years were a deterrent to Bowman's entry. The school has metal doors with electronic fob access, security cameras, and an emergency response system that allows police to be quickly notified of an active shooter.

The school's executive director, Brandy Flack, testified Monday that she was at the school the day of the shooting and heard a gunshot. She looked out of the window and there was a man pointing a gun in her direction.

Flack said the school has strengthened security measures since the shooting, including changing locks and entry codes, and employing more guards on campus. Flack said teachers have had a heightened sense of awareness and fear since July.

“I didn't sleep last night,” Flack said. “I'm very scared about how I will remain safe and how I will keep the school safe if Mr. Bowman is released.”

Josh Kahane, who coached Bowman on the basketball team and still has close ties to the school, said he was out of town the day of the shooting. That day, Kahane said, an armed Bowman went looking for him at his house, his office, and his sister-in-law's home. Bowman then went to the school, Kahane said.

Brian Roachell testified that Bowman, holding a gun, broke into his house the same day. After the break-in, Roachell started taking his gun everywhere and he began losing sleep. He lost his job after he fell asleep at work, Roachell said.

When asked by prosecutor John Scott if he keeps reliving that day, Roachell said “always.”

Near the end of the two-hour hearing, TBI Special Agent Kylee Bright said Bowman also visited to a second Memphis-area school, Bartlett Ninth Grade Academy. No shooting took place at the school, and it there was no testimony discussing why Bowman went there.