When Peter and Dorcas Lyoya moved their family to the United States eight years ago to escape violence in their home country of the Democratic Republic of Congo, they believed they had found “a safe land,” Dorcas Lyoya said.
That notion was shattered earlier this month, when their eldest child, Patrick Lyoya, was fatally shot by a Grand Rapids, Michigan, police officer during a traffic stop.
“I’m surprised and astonished that it is here that my son was killed with a bullet,” Dorcas Lyoya said Thursday through a language interpreter. The family’s native language is Swahili. In their first comments since videos of the deadly encounter were released to the public, the Lyoyas called for “justice for Patrick” and demanded that the officer who shot him be held accountable.
They also said they were shocked that their son had died in their adopted home country.
“I didn’t believe in this country that there is genocide,” Peter Lyoya said. “I didn’t know that in America there can be an execution style to kill someone with a gun and be a police officer.”
Lyoya, 26, was killed on the morning of April 4 after he was pulled over by an officer, who told him his license plate didn’t match the car he was driving. Four videos of the encounter, released Wednesday, showed Lyoya and the officer struggling before Lyoya was shot. Lyoya, a Black man, was facedown on the ground when he was fatally shot in the back of the head, one of the videos showed.
Standing visibly distraught at a lecture at the Renaissance Church of God in Christ, the same place where they demanded the release of the videos five days prior, the Lyoyas said they considered their son another head of the house.
“I was thinking Patrick would take my place one day, and to see that my son has been killed like an animal by this police officer, and to see this video they show, I see that I have no life. I see my heart being broken,” Peter Lyoya said through a language interpreter.
The Lyoya family immigrated to the US in 2014 from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Patrick Lyoya was the eldest of six kids. He was also a father to two young daughters.
Peter Lyoya described his son as a “quiet kid” who was never “brutal” and didn’t like fighting.
In an interview with NBC News, Dorcas Lyoya said she misses so many things about her son, but mostly his “voice” and “presence.”
She recalled the pain mothers endure to birth their children and said “that pain has now increased” and is “very deep” right now.
“I thought it would be my son who was going to bury me, but I am astonished that I am the one burying him,” she said at the church. “No one can replace your firstborn child. No one can replace Patrick.”
Dorcas Lyoya has not seen the videos released by the Grand Rapids Police Department on Wednesday, saying she is afraid to watch because she knows they are “horrific.”
Offering a shoulder of support at the church was Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot in a botched police raid in 2020, as several officers trying to execute a no-knock warrant forced entry into her apartment.
Taylor, like Lyoya, was 26.
I want to apologize [to the Lyoyas] because we haven’t done enough to make sure Patrick was safe,” Palmer said. “I know how it feels like to lose your 26-year-old child by the people who are supposed to protect us.”
The family was also surrounded by their legal team, which is led by civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who said he intends to file a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging excessive use of deadly force. He also called for the immediate naming of the officer and the officer’s criminal prosecution.
Crump said the video clearly shows that the officer had several opportunities to “de-escalate” yet he chose to use violence against an unarmed man.
The officer, who is white, has been stripped of his police power while an investigation is underway. He has not been publicly identified.
Lyoya’s case is being investigated by the Michigan State Police, which will turn its findings over to the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office, which will ultimately determine if criminal charges should be filed.
Lyoya’s brother Thomas Lyoya said he used to go to Grand Rapids only to visit his brother. The Lyoyas are based in Lansing, Michigan, about 70 miles east. But he no longer has a reason to visit anymore, which he said was “devastating.”
“We all saw the video. It was the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen. It was just very sad to see that,” he said. “But I know we have people supporting us and helping us through this. We will get justice for Patrick.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism