The initial findings of a private autopsy on the body of Vonderrit Myers, Jr., released Thursday, show the 18-year-old was shot several times from behind.
Myers was fatally shot by an off-duty St. Louis police officer on October 8th in the city's Shaw neighborhood, after police say Myers fired at the officer.
According to their attorneys, the family ordered the autopsy because they believe the police are giving inaccurate accounts of what happened.
“There are a lot of questions that need to be answered from beginning to end, and these parents deserve those answers," said attorney Jerryl Christmas. "They need to know why they have to bury their son this weekend."
Dr. Cyril Wecht, a high-profile forensic pathologist hired by the Myers family, said he conducted an initial autopsy, visited the site of the shooting, reviewed witness testimony and was given a one-page diagram of Myers' body prepared by St. Louis medical examiner Dr. Michael Graham. Wecht said he would not release his final report until he receives the complete ME report.
According to Wecht, Myers was shot a total of eight times, six of which hit Myers' legs from behind and two of which hit him on the side "somewhat in the front."
Wecht said neither of these two were "direct frontal shots." One of them hit Myers in the upper left thigh, completely "shattering" his femur bone. The other shot, which Wecht said was likely the fatal wound, hit Myers between the right eyebrow and ear, causing extensive brain damage.
St. Louis Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Graham said Wecht's initial findings are generally consistent with his own preliminary results. He said there are eight wounds on the body, but he isn't sure yet if Myers was struck by seven or eight bullets. He also said the head shot was fatal.
Wecht also said he found no wounds in Myers' torso or abdomen, nor did he find damage to internal organs. He also noted that some of the wounds showed that shots fired from an undetermined distance traveled in a "significant upward direction" as they moved through the body.
Police account, attorney interpretation
According to police reports, the officer was working for a private security company when he saw Myers and two other males. When he saw them scatter, he pursued, first in his vehicle and then on foot. Police said the officer saw Myers running while holding his waistband, causing the officer to suspect Myers had a gun. Myers' family maintains he was unarmed.
Police said after a pursuit on foot, the officer and Myers physically struggled, but Wecht said he found no evidence of bruising on Myers' body during his initial autopsy exam.
That's when, police said, Myers ran up a hill while firing three shots at the officer below before Myers' gun jammed. Police said the officer, "fearing for his safety," returned fire while moving toward Myers.
Wecht said the upward direction of some of Myers' wounds, particularly those in the legs, suggests that he was running uphill.
"With Vonderrit running up the hill away from the officer and the officer shooting then from a lower down position, that would fit in perfectly and explain how you have bullets that appear to move upward in the body," he said.
But attorney Christmas said while Wecht's findings do support witness statements that Myers was running uphill, but disputes the suggestion that Myers was firing at the officer.
"It's clear from the evidence from the autopsy reports that this individual was shot from behind as he was trying to run away," Christmas said. "There is no indication of any frontal shots. As he indicated there is no organ damage, there is no frontal shots, there is no evidence that would indicate there was a gun battle going on."
Wecht said he believes the femur wound was likely one of the final shots, and it would have debilitated Myers.
"He would have been incapable of moving," Wecht said. "It would have dropped him to the ground. The pain would have been immense, and most importantly, it would have rendered him in my opinion incapable of moving. You don't just drag your leg around."
Attorney Jermaine Wooten said according to eyewitness testimony, Myers was "screaming on the ground...begging this officer to stop. The officer then runs up the hill, approaches Vonderrit, and then we hear one single shot. Vonderrit is not screaming anymore."
Wecht said the trajectory of the likely final and fatal head wound suggests Myers may have been on the ground when it was fired.
However, police said after Myers' gun jammed, he kept pulling the trigger and pointing the weapon toward the officer, who then continued to shoot until he fatally wounded Myers. The Missouri State Highway Patrol's crime lab also reported that it found gunshot residue on Myers' hand, inner waistband, front and back jeans pockets and black t-shirt.
More information to be released
A St. Louis police spokesperson said in a written statement that they are still investigating the shooting.
"Once complete, the entire investigation will be presented along with the investigative findings of the Force Investigative Unit to the St. Louis Circuit Attorney and U.S. Attorney for review," Schron Jackson said in an email.
Wecht said he has more detailed examinations to perform and compile his final findings, which he will not release until the medical examiner has released his own autopsy results. Graham said he would expect it to take less than seven to 10 weeks to complete his report, pending toxicology reports.