‘Out of character’: Family searching for answers after shootout

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 10:59 am on Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bernard “Bud” Rowley

BELDING —  Like many others, the family of Bernard “Bud” Rowley is struggling to understand what initiated an early Saturday morning altercation with police that left Rowley, 55, of Sidney, dead.

According to the Michigan State Police Lakeview Post, which is handling the investigation, shots were fired at approximately 5:12 a.m. outside the Belding Police Department. An officer on duty went outside to investigate and found a patrol car had been damaged. The officer followed Rowley, the alleged suspect, who was driving a white van. The officer called for backup while in pursuit and a Michigan State Police trooper joined the pursuit.

After going a short distance, Rowley pulled over downtown Belding and was ordered out of the van. Rowley exited the van and shot a number of rounds toward the two officers. The shots hit a police cruiser. The Belding officer returned gunfire, resulting in Rowley’s death.

According to Michigan State Police Lt. Commander Kevin Sweeney, the Belding officer’s name is not being released at this time. Sweeney said Rowley’s autopsy was completed Monday at Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital in Grand Rapids, but results have not yet been released.

“As far as motive, we’re still looking for the motive,” Sweeney said. “Our hearts go out to the family who suffered a loss, as well as to the families of the police officers.”

Rowley’s family continues to search for a motive as well.


‘He would have never intentionally hurt anybody’

Tonya VanPortfleet of Greenville said Rowley was the stepfather of herself and her brother Jason, “but he was the only dad we ever knew or ever had,” she said. “He was my dad.”

VanPortfleet described Rowley as a loving, generous man who had suffered major losses in his life, including accidentally killing his older brother on New Year’s Eve in the early 1980s.

According to a Daily News article from 1983, Rowley, then 25 years old, went out to a Greenville bar with his brother, Marvin Rowley, 26, and their respective wives on Dec. 31, 1982. The children of both families stayed at Bernard Rowley’s home in Spencer Township near Gowen.

Marvin Rowley and his wife were quarreling at the home when Bernard Rowley and his wife arrived after the outing. Bernard Rowley asked his brother and sister-in-law to leave and Marvin Rowley took his two children, ages 9 and 7, and got into his pick-up truck.

Bernard Rowley heard his brother and sister-in-law exchanging threats outside. He got a rifle from his bedroom and went outside, where he saw his brother backing the pick-up truck toward the sister-in-law. Bernard Rowley fired a warning shot, but the truck continued to back up. Bernard Rowley fired another shot that went through the back window of the truck, striking Marvin Rowley in the neck.

The truck continued in reverse, pinning the sister-in-law between the truck’s rear bumper and the porch of the home. Marvin Rowley was pronounced dead at the scene. The sister-in-law sustained leg injuries. The two children were not injured.

“He and his brother were close,” VanPortfleet recalled. “That whole night was very tragic and it was something Bud never got over.”

Rowley lost his wife, Diana, in a car accident on Dec. 26, 1999, on M-91 just north of Greenville. According to a Daily News article from 1999, Diana Rowley, 45, was southbound on M-91 when she attempted to make a left turn into a gas station and was struck by an oncoming pick-up truck. Diana Rowley was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.

“She was the love of his life,” VanPortfleet said. “It’s not easy to move on.”

Like his wife, Bernard Rowley was a longtime employee of Frigidaire/Electrolux in Greenville. Like many others, he struggled after he lost his job when the facility shut down in 2005. The loss of his job eventually led to the loss of his home.

“He had a lot of stuff that he hadn’t dealt with,” VanPortfleet said.

However, Rowley was doing well enough as far as his family knew. He worked as a custodial engineer at Greenville Cinema and was pursuing higher education. VanPortfleet had most recently talked to Rowley on New Year’s Eve. She said her stepfather always struggled during the holidays as that time of year marked the anniversaries of the losses of his brother and wife.

“It’s a very rough time of year,” she said. “It got to him every year and I think it just got to be too much.”

However, VanPortfleet doesn’t understand what was going through Rowley’s head early Saturday morning. She said to her knowledge, her stepfather didn’t have any anger or agenda against any police officers.

“I’m still really confused as to why,” she said. “I just know that whatever it was, it was grief that drove him to everything that happened. I couldn’t tell you that he wanted his life to end. I would like to hope not, but all the information we’re getting kind of points that way. I just know he was carrying around a lot of pain and he wanted it to stop.

“That was the grieving Bud that people saw (on Saturday),” she said. “That was the hurt Bud. That was not who he was. He carried around a lot of hurt, but he never showed it to anybody. It was out of character for him. He would have never intentionally hurt anybody.”

Funeral services for Rowley are scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at Johnson-Feuerstein Funeral Home in Belding, with visitation scheduled from noon to 2 p.m. prior to the service.

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