FLORENCE — A woman who took care of a man who was shot by Apache Junction police Sunday morning said she doubts he understood what the police were trying to get him to do.

Lawson Edward Schaber, 82, of Florence, was fatally shot by two Apache Junction Police officers at a fitness center about 3 a.m. Sunday. Police reports state that Schaber allegedly was reaching to pull a handgun he was wearing from a shoulder holster.

Bonnie DePew, who says she was Schaber’s friend and part-time care-giver, doesn’t believe he understood what officers wanted him to do as he was very hard of hearing. The Florence woman said Schaber only understood people speaking if they were directly in front of him and talking very loudly.

“He was handicapped and he walked like a turtle,” DePew said. “He didn’t understand what they were saying to him because he was very hard of hearing. You had to precisely speak to him in a loud voice to get him to understand what was being said.”

She said Schaber even walked with a cane.

Police say that Schaber did not follow their commands and wouldn’t listen to them.

“He probably didn’t understand what they were telling him. All the Florence Police Department knew him. He was not dangerous. He was nocturnal and he stayed up at night. He would go to that gym to work out and shower because he lived in his motor home,” DePew said.

Schaber’s wife died on July 4, according to DePew.

“We just saw him last Thursday. The reason he carried the handgun is because he was afraid of his brother-in-law, who had threatened him. It was a shoulder holster that he had on and I saw it Thursday when he was here (in Florence.) There is no way that man understood what those officers were telling him. When he took the gun out of the holster, he probably thought they wanted him to give it to them,” DePew said.

She said that Schaber did not have a death wish and was actually very generous and kind.

“He took care of children down in California. Everybody knew him. He stayed with us and I took care of his phone calls. He was supposed to be here this week so we could get a death certificate on his wife. He carried her ashes around with him in his motor home,” she said.

DePew said she had known Schaber for years as he was a tenant of hers. After his wife died, DePew helped Schaber get back on his feet.

“They put him up in the hotel here and then he stayed with us for months. We helped him get through the loss of his wife. He moved into the Shady Rest RV Park here in Florence after he bought the RV,” DePew said.

Apache Junction Police said officers responded to the fitness center around 3 a.m. Sunday because several people were illegally camping in the gym’s parking lot.

When police arrived, they reported finding Schaber wearing a holstered handgun.

After Schaber failed to follow verbal commands, police say he pulled his handgun from the holster and two police officers fired their weapons.

Schaber was pronounced dead at the scene.

AJPD Cmdr. Arnold Freeman said Wednesday that he did not know Schaber was hard of hearing and nearly deaf.

“This is the first I’m hearing this,” Freeman said.

He said the two officers who fired their weapons and two other assisting officers have been placed on administrative leave per routine procedure while the Arizona Department of Public Safety investigates the shooting.

Freeman said he and the department are very saddened anytime people lose their lives and the officers apparently just had no way to communicate with Schaber. He said all AJPD officers were in full uniform, and Schaber should have understood not to grab the gun from the holster.

Freeman said according to reports, officers were close to Schaber’s face and yelling commands loudly at him without knowing he was hard of hearing.

He said, “Grabbing the gun isn’t the most intelligent thing to do” as officers had no idea what a suspect might do with it.

Freeman added that this is never a good situation for officers and is really one of the most difficult times police officers go through.

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Jim Headley is a reporter covering breaking news, crime and justice around Pinal County. He can be reached at jheadley@pinalcentral.com.

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