In the minutes after Charleena Lyles was shot by police, a 12-year-old girl slipped by police officers and ran up four flights of stairs.
The girl, Makalah, saw cops outside the building and wanted to check on her friends – Lyles’ children.
When she reached the floor, she saw Lyles’ body in the hallway, covered in blood. The mother of four had been shot at least five times.
“I didn’t want to make myself noticeable, and I went upstairs and I saw her body,” Makalah said. She said lying next to Lyles’ body was her 11-year-old son.
“He was crying next to her,” Makalah said. “I was just talking to him. I didn’t want to get too close.”
She asked if he was okay. He said yeah, but she knew he wasn't. “He was crying, looking at his mom,” she said.
Earlier that Sunday morning, at 9:42 a.m., two Seattle police officers responded to a call about a burglary at Brettler Family Place 3, the building where Lyles lived.
The low-income apartment complex is nestled in Magnuson Park in northeast Seattle. It’s a quiet, leafy corner of the city, popular with runners who cut through the complex on their way to the lake.
Parked in front of the building, one of the officers mentioned a report they had pulled up from June 5.
“She was the one making all these weird statements about how her and her daughter are gonna turn into wolves,” one officer said.
They knocked on Lyles’ door. She opened it, and they went inside and spoke for several minutes. She told them about a missing Xbox.
What happened next is unclear. An audio recording picks up rustling sounds and Lyles saying, “Get ready, motherfuckers.”
Officer 1: “We need help. A woman with two knives.”
Officer 2: “Hey, get back. Get back.”
Officer 1: “Get back. Tase her.”
Officer 2: “I don’t have a taser. Get back, get back.”
And then the sound of gun shots. It was 9:49 a.m., seven minutes after they had arrived at Lyles’ building. The police officers administered first aid until the fire department showed up 10 minutes later and pronounced Lyles dead.
The next day, Monday, Makalah and her twin sister, Akalah, sat on the steps leading down to the apartment complex. The air smelled like roses, because they were in bloom, and also vanilla, because kids kept re-lighting the candles from a vigil the night before.
Akalah was outside after the shooting. She saw Lyles’ son emerge from the building and sit down as police tried to speak with him.
“He said, ‘I’m not going to talk to you, because you killed my mom,’” she said.
The twins’ mother, Angel, was driving home at this time. She heard about the shooting when her son called. She said she was the one who called Lyles’ sister to tell her what happened.
“She broke down and started crying,” Angel said. “She dropped the phone.”
Angel said she was trying to escape this kind of violence when she moved to Washington state from Detroit in 2014. She lives here with her seven children.
“I was trying to get away from this kind of stuff that’s happening on the East Coast, with police killing people there,” she said. “This was just a better opportunity. But it pushes at the heart of where we are, where we live. Somebody close to me, a friend, somebody that has children, killed.”
Angel was close to Lyles; they’d known each other since Lyles moved in last summer. At a rally on Tuesday evening, Angel carried Lyles’ 4-year-old daughter, a child with special needs who has difficulty walking.
Her twin daughters played often with two of Lyles’ children. They viewed Lyles as an auntie, Angel said. They called her Leena.
Lyles talked to the girls about school bullying and problems in her own life. The twins were protective of her, too – once they witnessed a boyfriend pick up a pan and hit Lyles. In that moment, the twins picked up Lyles’ baby and left.
The day after the shooting, they spent the day listening to the audio recording of the shooting. Makalah had listened to it 16 times. Akalah read everything she could about the shooting online.
“We’re still trying to figure it out, to make it okay,” Makalah said.