CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The mother of a 19-year-old Michigan man shot by police in New Hampshire says she is still struggling to understand just how her son was killed.
Lane Lesko, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, died of a single gunshot wound June 21 in Peterborough in rural New Hampshire.
The New Hampshire attorney general’s office has released scant information in its investigation, saying only that the shooting followed a brief pursuit along Route 136. It has not said which department was involved nor released the name of the officer responsible for the shooting.
Lesko’s mother, Patricia Lesko, told The Associated Press that her son was autistic and bipolar. She said she was told by the attorney general’s office that he was “brandishing” a BB gun and running away when he was shot.
Jeff Strelzin, a senior assistant attorney general and chief of the homicide unit, acknowledged speaking with the mother but said he never used the word brandish. He refused to provide further details, noting the ongoing investigation and saying the office is waiting for additional evidence.
A week ago, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department said authorities in the state and in Maine were searching for Lesko after he disappeared during a camping trip at Lake Umbagog. The trip was organized by a group called Summit Achievement, where Lesko was receiving mental health treatment.
No one from Summit responded to a request for comment. But Patricia Lesko said her son is believed to have disappeared from the camp in the middle of the night and taken a canoe. Authorities said that a truck and a pontoon were believed connected to Lesko’s disappearance.
“My first thought was that my son had drowned,” Patricia Lesko said.
On Wednesday, she got a call from state troopers telling her that her son had been killed. “My first question was who murdered my son? Who shot my son?” she said.
She was then told that state troopers had shot him on a highway after they spotted him with a gun that later turned out to be a BB gun. She was also told that none of the officers involved was wearing a body camera and that the patrol cars with cameras were not in position to videotape the scene.
“They allege our son had a BB gun and was brandishing it at them. My response was that it’s kind of hard to brandish something when you are running away,” she said. “They knew he was AWOL from an intensive mental health treatment program.”
Lesko’s son, whose funeral was Sunday, had several run-ins with the law over the years, which Lesko blamed on his mental illness. Since 2015, he was accused of stealing a car from a Michigan dealership after claiming he was an FBI agent and then crashing it in Toledo. He also was accused of breaking into a neighbor’s home and impersonating a law enforcement officer on several other occasions.
In the Toledo-related case, he pleaded guilty in January to unlawfully driving away a vehicle, first-degree home invasion, lying to a police officer and false pretenses less than $200, according to The Ann Arbor News. But the Michigan judge in the case delayed his sentence until 2017 so he could complete mental health treatment, according to the newspaper.
Since he arrived at Summit, Patricia Lesko said she felt relieved that he was finally getting the treatment he needed — noting how he wrote in a journal how thankful that he was to get a second chance. But at the same time, she said the signs of his mental illness — irritability, paranoia — began to emerge during their weekly phone calls.
In their final call earlier this month, she talked with her son about his recent birthday June 12 but also about how he felt he had little control over his mental illness.
“Did I sense he was going to run away and eventually be murdered by a New Hampshire state trooper? No parent has that ending to the book,” she said. “Did I know he was suffering or exhibiting those symptoms of mania? Yes, absolutely. We were concerned.”
In the end, Patricia Lesko said it became too much for a young man who had graduated early from high school with an IQ of 130 and dreamed of one day becoming a police officer.
“He was an amazing person with a demon that developed in his brain that he had no control over,” she said, fighting back tears. “Sometimes you try your hardest and you lose.”