The community comes together to honor the fallen officer’s sacrifice and legacy.
It’s a part of our city’s history that, if you were living in Columbia on January 10, 2005, you won’t forget. A tragic moment that made us all stop and come together. Columbia Police Officer Molly Bowden was shot while making a routine traffic stop on Nifong and Forum Boulevard. Molly, 26, succumbed to her injuries exactly one month later.
To this day, she is the only officer in the history of the Columbia Police Department to be killed in the line of duty.
People who knew Molly describe her as a beautiful person both inside and out, with a contagious personality and giving spirit. “Molly was just a good person, and that was shown in her work also,” says Columbia Police Department Chief Geoff Jones, who served with Molly on the force for several years. “She could talk to anyone and had a great sense of humor.”
Geoff recounts a credit card fraud case in which they discovered that the card was used to buy gifts for children at Christmas. It was Molly’s idea to buy back the toys and deliver them to the kids. “We didn’t make a lot of money back then, but we spent a portion of it buying kids’ toys because mom had stolen them in the first place,” he says. “That’s just who she was. That was her idea.”
Geoff had just transferred to the narcotics unit when Molly was shot, and he tells the story of an informant who had dealt with Molly. “When he found out it was Molly who got shot, he cried,” Geoff says.
In the aftermath of Molly’s death, the community united, lining the streets for her funeral, with thousands attending the service at Mizzou Arena. “There was a level of support in the community not just for police, but for each other, that was bigger than anything I had seen growing up here,” Geoff says. “It shows that a lot of the things we worry about and let get in the way are pretty unimportant, because when it is important, we step up.”
A Community Remembers
Fifteen years later, the community continues to come together to honor Molly’s legacy. Molly Bowden Memorial Park, dedicated in 2016, lies on the eastern edge of Boone Hospital’s Nifong Medical Plaza. The park features small waterfalls and a walking path around a pond.
Representatives from Boone Hospital Center and Coil Construction first approached Molly’s husband, Corey, about the idea for the park. Coil built the park, and the City of Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department maintains it.
Every April, the park is the starting and ending point for Molly’s Miles, a memorial run with a 5K, 10K, and virtual race. The mission of the event is to bring everyone together to honor the memory of fallen law enforcement officers like Molly and the survivors they left behind. All proceeds benefit the Missouri chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors, or COPS.
Molly’s Miles board vice president Bryana Larimer first became involved with the race after working for the Columbia Police Department as a civilian public information officer. “I started hearing and collecting the stories about Molly,” she says. “I was in awe of how beautiful this woman was inside and out. I wanted to be a part of something that continued to keep Molly’s memory alive and bring the community together, which is something I think Molly was really good at doing.”
The race continues to grow, with last year’s race attracting almost 1,200 runners from Mid-Missouri and from other parts of the country, including California, New York, and Connecticut. Molly’s parents, Dave and Beverly Thomas, serve on the board and attend the race each year.
“I think when we consider the law enforcement family, sometimes there is a divide. One of the great things about Molly’s Miles is that it’s not just law enforcement that comes to this,” says Bryana. “It’s all parts of the community, and it truly brings people together.”
Inspiring Future Generations
Columbia College senior Madison Dechman grew up watching television shows like “Criminal Minds” and “N.C.I.S.” and knew she was interested in a law enforcement career. A ride-around with a police officer when she was young sparked her interest even more.
Now a criminal justice major at Columbia College, Madison is the 2019 recipient of the Molly S. Thomas Bowden Memorial Scholarship, founded in Molly’s honor by Dr. Joseph Carrier, a Columbia College criminal justice faculty member who had Molly in several classes.
The scholarship is awarded annually to a female student majoring in criminal justice. Students who apply write a short essay reflecting on the importance of law enforcement as a career and the role of a woman going into law enforcement.
Madison, originally from the Lee’s Summit area, didn’t know Molly personally but did research to learn more about her. “Molly really cared, was compassionate, and loved what she was doing, and that’s something I try to embrace, whether it’s for school or work,” she says.
Madison plans on attending graduate school with the ultimate goal of working in criminal justice at a federal agency. “My dream is to make a change, whether it be in Columbia or the city where I end up,” she says. “What I learned about Molly is that she worked hard to make Columbia a better place.”
Molly’s legacy will also be remembered through the Molly Bowden Neighborhood Policing Center, a new police facility to be located on the south side of International Drive in the Auburn Hills subdivision. Naming the substation after Molly was unanimously approved by the city council in 2018; construction on the new facility is scheduled to begin this year.
As part of the city’s Percent for Art program, Missouri artist Beth Nybeck was selected to create a sculpture (pictured above) that will be installed outside the new building after its construction. The Percent for Art program allocates 1% of new city construction or renovation project costs to be used for site-specific public art.
The sculpture’s working title is “Indivisible,” and it’s intended to be an abstract representation of a tiger lily seedpod, with the 10-foot exterior structure representing the police department and a five-foot interior seed representing the community.
“To me, it’s a really beautiful symbol of the police force’s goal, and our community’s, to protect and help shield the community from harm,” Beth says. “It’s a beautiful skeleton structure that is meant to give life and breath to this center seed, which is going to have a community engagement element.”
The seed pod itself will be geared toward Molly’s life and legacy. This spring, Beth plans on interviewing Molly’s family, friends, and officers who worked alongside her, with their responses to questions to be incorporated on the surface of the seed pod and illuminated at night. “The center seed pod is going to be a reflection of Molly’s life, her legacy, and her passion,” Beth says.
Molly’s service and giving personality have also inspired other community organizations to recognize her contributions. Each year, the Officer Molly Bowden Memorial Blood Drive, a joint effort between the Collective Emergency Services of Columbia and the American Red Cross, is held at Grace Bible Church. Molly’s love of horses and her membership in 4-H also inspired the Boone County 4-H Foundation to create the annual Molly Bowden Horsemanship Award.
Molly worked to make Columbia a better place — a legacy and a goal our community has shown is well worth remembering. “Molly brought a lot of people together,” Geoff says.