This will be my final word on the life and death of Edmund Rowe, a friend of mine from my days at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the son of legendary North Korean defector No Kum-Sok (Kenneth Rowe), who flew a MiG-15 into South Korea on September 21, 1953.
For the record, here are my bona fides:
(1) I knew Edmund for 20 years. As a fellow engineering student, we took several classes together and we were part of a small group of fellow Christians who did homework together and attended the same church.
(2) His father was a professor at Embry-Riddle at the time. I took his father for an elective class—ET401: Mechanical Design—in the Fall of 1989. In fact, I still have the textbook, which his father gave me.
(3) After graduation, I kept in touch with Edmund over the years. He graduated a year ahead of me and managed to get a job as an aeronautical engineer at Robins AFB.
(4) Over the years, I had many discussions with Edmund regarding a variety of issues, from politics to firearms (technical and tactical issues) to theology and even perspectives on the opposite sex.
(5) Like myself, Edmund married later in life. I was at his wedding on May 3, 2008. He was 42, the same age at which I would marry the following year.
Some may wonder why I’m bothering to write a post about someone who has been dead for more than four years, and who died in a less-than-honorable way: on September 21, 2008—not even five months into his marriage—he shot his wife to death, and then shot himself. This apparent murder-suicide was a dramatic, shocking end to two lives in a fashion that no one saw coming.
For my part, I must admit that, when I first learned the news, I believed the report: that Edmund had murdered his wife—Allison White Rowe—and then killed himself. Why did I believe it? Because—as a Christian with a dark view of human nature—I believe that no heinous act, given stimulus, opportunity, and inclination of the heart, is past anyone.
But here’s the problem: in the case of Edmund, the murder-suicide angle wasn’t adding up. Why? Because, usually, when someone commits that, there are one or more indicators involved: financial catastrophe, marital strife, mental illness, drug and/or alcohol issues, domestic violence issues.
None of those things were in play here. Edmund had absolutely no violence issues, domestic or otherwise. He had no anger management issues. His managed his finances well. He was not reclusive or withdrawn. He had a very stable job at Robins AFB, as did his wife. He did not drink—not even an occasional beer, wine, or mixed drink. He never used drugs; he even frowned on prescription drugs. He had no history of mental illness. There was no known marital strife. (And this is huge: if there had been, someone would have known, as his wife’s family was well-established in the Warner-Robins area. In Baptist circles, if there are marital problems, the wife will tell someone, and—before long—the matter becomes common knowledge. That was not the case here.)
His pastor indicated the possibility that Edmund may have accidentally shot his wife and then—being distraught—shot himself. When he first said that, I thought it would have been unlikely, though, as Edmund was a very experienced firearm instructor who was meticulous about safety.
Another possibility—which Edmund himself had been wary of over the years—was a third-party hit job. Why was Edmund concerned about that possibility? His father’s defection from North Korea was a very huge slap in the face to the Communist government. Edmund had indicated over the years that the NK government had a bounty on their heads. For this reason, Edmund lived a relatively private life.
After looking at the known facts—and from what I knew of Edmund over the years—I am 99.99% certain of what happened.
First, let’s look at the possibilities, and I will rate them.
Scenario 1: Edmund murders—intentionally kills—his wife, and then kills himself.
All reasonable discussion of this matter must begin with a concession that this worst-case scenario was possible. As I said, everyone—and I do mean everyone—has the capacity to commit the most hideous of evil acts.
I’ve seen enough prominent ministers go down in flames in sex scandals; I’ve seen seemingly faithful church workers get busted for child molestation. A few years ago, someone at my church was under investigation for lewd acts with children. When a friend of his protested to me of that person’s innocence, I warned him, “Have you considered the possibility that RW is guilty of those things?” (RW is now doing 20 years for child rape.)
In Edmund’s case, I would believe this scenario, except that I see no indicators—from what was known—as to what would have motivated him to do this. As I said, there were no telltale signs, not even in hindsight.
I would give this scenario a 1% possibility for that reason.
Scenario 2: Edmund and his wife were the victims of a third-party hit that was made to look like a murder-suicide.
I actually had a couple of very astute observers suggest that possibility. Both suggested that it could have been a government hit.
I rule that angle out for one reason: Edmund was not involved in the type of work that would expose him to that shady side of government. He was a corrosion control engineer who worked on keeping our aircraft airworthy. His political affiliations—which were mainstream conservative—-were no different than that of most of the community at Robins AFB. He would not have been a target for our government.
But could he have been a target of the North Koreans, given that the deaths occurred on the 55th anniversary of his father’s defection from North Korea?
At face value, while I am not into conspiracies, I would concede that there is a prima facie case here. After all, NK would have had a motive for delivering such a “Happy Defection Anniversary” present to his aging father. It is also true that NK is notorious for holding grudges for a very long time, even to the point of going after the family of someone who disgraces them. While NK normally targets defectors in South Korea, Lt. No—in his defection—was probably the biggest embarrassment to NK.
Still, I rule that out, due to one known detail: before the killings, Edmund and his wife had been secluded in their home for a couple days. (This would have been normal, as—on the days around September 21, the defection—Edmund was known to keep a low profile because of a potential NK hit.)
Had the NKs attacked Edmund in his home, Edmund would have eaten their lunch, and it would not have been a fair fight. He was an excellent marksman who had won many tactical matches. His shooting buddies included many retired Rangers and SF Operators.
For that reason, I give this scenario about 1%.
At the same time, based on what I knew of Edmund over the years, the date of the killings provides a very significant clue as to what happened, as the date is—in my estimation—not coincidental to the killings.
With that, we get Scenario #3: Edmund accidentally shoots his wife, then—in grief-fueled horror—kills himself.
Originally, I didn’t buy this scenario for the following reasons:
(1) Edmund was an outstanding firearms instructor who preached the rules of gun safety.
(2) I could not think of a way that he could have accidentally shot his wife.
On further review, however, it makes sense:
(1) The shooting happened at night.
(2) While Edmund was an excellent shooter, he did not have very good eyesight. During the day, this would not have been a big deal, but at night he would have been at a slight disadvantage.
(3) He was not a fan of using flashlights mounted to firearms, as—in his own words–”it gives the bad guys a target.”
(4) He had always been concerned about an attack from NK, or some third party contracted by them.
(5) On that night—the 55th anniversary of his father’s defection—he would have been more on edge than usual, as he now had a wife to protect in addition to himself.
He almost certainly heard some noises at night. He would have been ready, with his Glock Model 21 chambered. If he was edgy at the prospects of a hit from NK, that is one instance in which adrenaline could have overridden his otherwise good sense with firearms. If he felt he was being actively targeted by a skilled team, he would have been more concerned than usual about making sure he got a shot off before they could shoot him or his wife.
Without a flashlight, he would not have easily seen that this was his wife, not an intruder.
With his shoddy eyesight, target identification would have been more difficult than in broad daylight.
If he called out for his wife, and she didn’t answer right away, he may have given himself the “weapons free” command and pulled the trigger, a tenth of a second too soon.
Sadly, about a tenth of a second later, he realized that he landed a heart shot on the very person he wanted to protect, the beloved wife he spent 42 years trying to find. From there, he lost it…
I give that scenario about 98% plausibility.
I am quite certain that this was a friendly-fire accident that Edmund compounded with a suicide due to any number of reasons (despair, guilt, temporarily losing it, etc.).
So why am I writing this?
From a Christian standpoint, I tend to be a stickler for getting the record straight. God is a God of justice, who eventually will clear all records and assign all faults as appropriate. I believe in vindicating where vindication is due, and calling evil for what it is, no matter who commits it. That goes for me. That goes for you. That goes for Edmund.
From a Christian perspective, Edmund’s death was especially tragic. For the Christian, we hope that the way we die does justice to the work of Christ in our lives. When we are remembered on this side of eternity, we hope to be remembered for the balance of our lives, and how it counted for the Kingdom.
For Edmund, that may never be the case. Not due to his wife’s death—in all honesty her family and his larger community would have believed the accident scenario had he hung on—but due to his own suicide.
And no, I do not say this to pile onto Edmund. After all, if I had killed my wife in such an accident, it would be all I could do to hang on for dear life. If I were in his shoes, it would be easy to see how one can think that all is lost. In his scenario, he had a couple seconds to gain his bearings, and it is not hard to see how easy it would have been for him to fail. I lack no empathy here.
At the same time, his suicide—while quite understandable—was especially damaging: it left a trail of questions that will never be answered on this side of eternity. He left a large number of friends—and family (including his wife’s family)–holding the bag.
The way he ended matters did no justice to his own life, his family’s lives, or the cause of the Gospel.
The Scriptures do not speak well of suicide, and—while I do not believe that it is the unpardonable sin—it is certainly not the way a Christian ought to wish to face the King of Kings.
Still, I can say with utmost confidence to his father–Kenneth Rowe–, and his sister Bonnie, and to the family of his wife: your son, your brother, your son-in-law was not a murderer. He made a very tragic mistake, and then compounded it with a worse mistake committed without his full faculties at work.
Allison White Rowe died not from a malevolent act, but from a very tragic accident at the hands of an otherwise loving husband who was acting in good faith against a threat that he thought he was up against. I say this while conceding that none of what I am saying will bring her back.
There are many lessons to be learned here, from tactical matters to Christian living. I will not list all of those here, as that is not my desire.
My conclusion is one of qualified vindication–a very tragic accidental shooting–compounded by suicide.
From the perspective of this side of eternity: the way Edmund Rowe died is out of step with the balance of his life. While I will not excuse his suicide, I definitely understand it: he made a tragic mistake–resulting in an accidental shooting–that he decided he could not live with.
I wish for Edmund the same mercy from God that I would want for myself if the roles were reversed.
That is my final word on this matter.