Eric James Andrews was struggling with his mental health. His mother called the police for help, but they shot him dead.

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Eric James Andrews was shot by the police on February 28, 2006. He was 18. Holly Fallon
  • In 2006, Holly Fallon called 911 after her son’s girlfriend told her he was making suicidal statements.
  • When the police arrived, they shot him dead.
  • Nearly 15 years later, Fallon still lives with a crushing guilt of having been the person to summon the police, she said.
  • Fallon is one of five mothers who talked to Insider about losing their sons to police shootings. You can read the other stories in the six-part series here.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Eric James Andrews was months away from graduating high school in Temecula, California.

Andrews, 18, planned to follow in the path of his mother, Holly Fallon, who was seeking a degree in computer science. They would complete the program together.

But their dream never came to fruition. On February 28, 2006, Andrews was shot dead by police officers who were called to keep him safe from his own suicidal thoughts.

“He needed help, and they killed him. I will forever regret calling 911. Forever,” Fallon recently told Insider from her home in Oregon. “My life has just totally changed. I quit working. I have health issues. It’s just not been good.”

Fallon told Insider that she’d been following along with recent calls for police reform and the high-profile deaths of people with mental illnesses at the hands of officers around the country.

When she listens to the stories — like that of Daniel Prude in Buffalo, New York — she’s instantly brought back to the month her son was killed.

That winter, Andrews was having a difficult time with his parents’ divorce, and Fallon had just moved in with her boyfriend.

Andrews was acting out, and Fallon was struggling to figure out how to cope with his behaviour.

About a month before his death, Andrews was pulled over for doing illegal U-turns in his neighbourhood. His mother told the officers that she was at her wits’ end and that his behaviour was becoming unbearable.

After that, she requested that her son be committed involuntarily to a behavioural-health facility. He was held for about two weeks, she said.

“I thought this was a good time to teach him a lesson,” Fallon told Insider. “That was a stupid thing for me to do, but I was frustrated and upset and exhausted with my son, and he went.”

‘What the hell happened? They’re running up there with guns drawn’

When he was released from the facility, Andrews wanted to live with his girlfriend, Jessica, at her apartment nearby. He bounced between the two homes.

On the morning of February 28, Fallon was at her apartment with her boyfriend’s mother.

Then she got a call from Jessica, who told her that Andrews was refusing to leave her apartment and was holding a knife to himself, threatening to kill himself.

“She called me and said he won’t leave. She was crying and screaming and said he won’t go,” Fallon said.

Fallon immediately called 911.

In the call, which was obtained by Insider, Fallon calmly explained to the dispatcher that her son had a history of mental-health issues and hadn’t taken his medication. She gave the dispatcher Jessica’s phone number and jumped in the car to head to her apartment.

“Right as I got to my son’s girlfriend’s apartment, I saw officers running toward the apartment,” Fallon said.

“I thought, ‘Holy shit, what the hell happened? They’re running up there with guns drawn. I don’t get it.'”

She said that she ran behind the officers, asking what was happening, but that they pushed her back.

Jessica came out of the apartment carrying the knife that she had said Andrews was threatening to hurt himself with, Fallon said.

“I’m his mother. I called you. What’s going on?” she remembered calling out. “You don’t understand. I called you. Why are your guns drawn?”

There was yelling, then a short silence, Fallon said.

“I heard two shots. This was all within a half a minute,” she said. “After that, I fell to my knees. I knew that they had shot my son.”

Fallon said that after the shooting, officers approached her but wouldn’t tell her what happened. They questioned her about her son and shielded her from emergency responders taking him away on a gurney, she said.

“They didn’t tell me that he’d been shot or how bad it was. They just made me stand there with my son’s girlfriend,” she said.

Eventually, Fallon’s boyfriend persuaded the officers to let her leave to be with her son at the hospital. As she sat in the waiting room with family members, the police gathered nearby.

“Finally, one of the detectives knelt in front of me. He said, ‘What can I say, he didn’t make it,’ and walked away,” Fallon recalled. “I just looked at him, and I’m sure I almost fainted.”

Eric James Andrews
Andrews loved technology and planned to study computer science with his mum after he graduated from high school, his mum said. Holly Fallon

‘Am I the killer? Am I still a mother?’

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department later said Andrews had a knife in his hand and advanced at a Temecula officer before the officer shot Andrews in the chest.

To this day, Fallon doesn’t believe that her son would have threatened officers.

The Temecula Police Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.

Fallon said she learned that there were no significant knife injuries on her son’s body. She said she thinks he didn’t intend to harm himself.

But regardless of what Andrews did or intended to do, the situation was serious. Fallon had called 911 in the hope that the police would be able to get him mental-health treatment, she said. She didn’t imagine it would end in his death.

Fallon has attempted to rebuild her life and forgive herself. She’s gone to counseling and connected with other mothers who lost their children at the hands of the police.

But whenever she starts to feel happiness, she’s almost immediately struck by a sense of guilt and questions her identity, she said.

“Am I now the reason he’s dead? Am I the killer? Am I still a mother? Do I deserve to go on and grow and be happy and do these things, or should I be stuck here?” Fallon said. “It’s kind of a unique torture.”

“I know in my mind it’s not my fault, but it constantly finds its way in these little nooks and crannies of my life,” she added. “I constantly blame myself.”

Fallon said she’s happy that in 2020 police brutality is finally being taken seriously on a larger scale.

When her son died, Fallon felt like few people questioned the police’s narrative.

Fallon said she supports Black Lives Matter and any movement toward reforming policing. But as a white mother, she feels out of place. She wonders whether her son’s story has a place in the discussions happening about police brutality and reform.

“I just don’t know where I fit in,” she said.

Alexander Tsai, a psychiatrist and researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Insider that it’s common for parents like Fallon to be left with a unique kind of survivor’s guilt.

“Grief is normal. Not only have they lost a loved one, but they feel complicit in that loved one’s death, even if it’s not their responsibility,” Tsai said. “The key is how can you begin to reconstruct your life and reconstruct your narrative around what happened so you can be merciful to yourself and begin to have a life worth living again?

Tsai said that mental-health specialists who see patients experiencing this kind of trauma will assess their cognitive biases about the kind of control they really had over what played out. They will go over the event, from beginning to end, to try to identify what could have been done differently.

“In almost all cases,” Tsai said, “it’s not the case that you could have done more.”

The fault lies not with the struggling family members who turned to 911 for help, but in a system that gives them only bad options, Tsai said.

“I think in this country we put too much on the backs of the families put these in these types of situations, where they feel like they have to basically make up for gaps in the system because the system failed them,” he continued. “We do not have a functioning system for mental-health treatment or substance-use treatment in this country.”

Instead of leaving these issues to armed police officers, some communities are establishing crisis teams that are dispatched to emergency calls involving mental health. These programs, like Cahoots in Eugene, Oregon, are now being replicated in cities like New York and Los Angeles.

In these communities, when a family member calls 911 for a loved one who has a mental illness or substance-use disorder, clinicians who are trained in de-escalation and recognising signs of illness and acute intoxication can respond instead of — or sometimes alongside — law enforcement.

Programs like this are meant to help protect families from the tragedy of losing a loved one. They’re also designed to lessen the role of law-enforcement officers, who are often also left with grief and guilt after they pull the trigger on someone in crisis.

“Yes, we do need more training, but we also need a system where it doesn’t burden the police officers with responsibility, so it doesn’t burden the families with responsibility,” Tsai said. “So that we have a more functioning system where not every decision is a bad choice.”