'He was a peacemaker': Parents of Patrick Lyoya want son remembered for more than fatal police shooting
It’s been nearly a month since the death of Patrick Lyoya.
A Grand Rapids police officer killed the Congolese man during a struggle after a traffic stop on April 4. An external investigation from the Michigan State Police is ongoing, and his death has sparked protests and renewed calls for justice for Black people killed at the hands of police. But for Lyoya’s family, their son is more than a symbol. They long for the world to know the real Patrick.
Peter and Dorcas Lyoya have been sleeping on the floor of their apartment since the death of their son Patrick.
On this day, the couple is sitting in their living room, listening to Christian music. They’re surrounded by photos of Patrick taped to the walls.
Speaking through a Swahili interpreter, they say it’s Congolese tradition to sleep on the floor for 40 days after the death of a loved one.
"Even him, all of us, when we come, cannot sleep on the bed, we have to sleep down on the floor, that is our culture," Peter and Dorcas explain.
The Lyoyas are originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The family immigrated to Lansing in 2014 after spending several years at a refugee camp in Malawi.
26-year-old Patrick was the oldest of the couple's six children. Growing up in Congo, Dorcas remembers him as a happy little boy who liked to play soccer and spend time with his family.
“He was a peacemaker because every time his friends started fighting, he would be the one always intervening telling them don't fight, telling them you need to live in peace and in love with each other," she said.
Patrick was a member of the Bafuliru tribe in Congo. His father says Patrick embodied the tribe’s virtues.
“We can say that Bafuliru is one of the tribes because we are almost more than 430 tribes in Congo. And the meaning of the name 'Bafuliru' means people will have to live in harmony, live in peace with everybody else with all the people around," Peter Lyoya said.
Fleeing a war-torn Congo, the Lyoyas say they found relief when they immigrated to the United States. On one of the family’s first outings in Lansing, Peter says he remembers his son telling them he felt like he was in heaven.
“He was joking with his relative making them laugh. He said, 'You see, we got here, it seemed like we are getting close to God,'" he remembered. "I mean, we are so peaceful, everything and everybody would laugh. It seemed like we are getting close to God now."
After living several years in Lansing with his parents, Patrick eventually moved to Grand Rapids for better job opportunities. He wanted to save enough money to buy a home for his family.
“But he was calling his parents to say, ‘You know what, I would love for you guys to come here, so when I buy a house, we can stay together. We can live together because I want to start a family and you, as a grandparent. You will take care of my kid, and I will take care of you.' That is a big heart!" Peter Lyoya said.
Peter says his son loved to dance so much that he became a dance instructor.
“He taught young men, Congolese, white, Black, how to dance music from Africa," he said.
Dorcas says Patrick was always responsible for organizing family get-togethers and for bringing the music.
“In summer, he used to come almost every Saturday. He would come here. We would barbecue. We would have a good time with the family. We would dance. We would laugh. I mean, he was a lovely person. He liked to bring the family together," she said.
Patrick would call his parents almost every day, even if it was just for a few minutes during his break at his factory job in Grand Rapids. The night before he died, Patrick and his parents spoke on the phone to plan the birthday party of one of his younger brothers. The party was supposed to take place the following Sunday. Instead of celebrating, the family would be busy planning Patrick's funeral.
The officer who shot Patrick, Christopher Schurr, is on paid leave while the Michigan State Police investigates the incident. The union representing the officer says it was a dangerous situation, and Schurr had a right to defend himself.
Wiping tears from her eyes and holding a blanket around herself, Dorcas calls her son’s death a murder.
“We don’t want what happened to us to happen to another parent. Let it be the last one," she said.
Dorcas Lyoya wants the officer who shot Patrick to be charged with a crime.