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Joey Bennett, here playing with a toy gun, was shot Tuesday. [Photo courtesy of Bowen family]

Girlfriend of gunman was no stranger to violence


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 22, 1998

TAMPA -- Bernice Bowen's mother and sister aren't surprised she ended up living with someone as violent and abusive as Hank Earl Carr, who killed Bowen's son and three law enforcement officers this week.

They said Bowen, 24, was abused physically and emotionally as a child growing up in Marietta, Ohio.

They came to Tampa on Thursday to lend support to Bowen and agreed to talk to a reporter about Bowen's life. Bowen declined to be interviewed.

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Bernice's mother, Connie Bowen, and sister, Rose Hayes, said they are devastated by the events. Looking back, they lay some blame on the abuse endured throughout Bowen's life.

Her father, Parker Anthony, was a violent man who directed most of his abuse toward Bernice, they said.

"He beat her a lot, slapped her a lot," Connie Bowen said.

"When you are conditioned to believe this is okay, you accept what life has given you," Hayes said. "My sister, as I remember her, is a very sweet person. But she took the wrong path."

That path ultimately led Bowen to Carr, who shot Bowen's 4-year-old son, Joey, on Tuesday and then killed the three officers before taking his own life.

Bowen believes Joey's death was an accident, and that Carr was a good man and loving father to her children, her sister said.

"When you are never loved your whole life, and you find somebody willing to give you whatever love you're willing to grasp on to," Hayes said, "you take it. She loved him, and feels he loved her."

Hayes said her sister has been wrongly portrayed as an uncaring mother who allowed her boyfriend to abuse and kill one of her children.

Amid all the confusion, Hayes said, there was one certainty. "My sister loved those kids," she said. "Did she know how to raise them? How can you know how when you have never been taught how?"

Growing up, Bernice was an outcast who never seemed to fit in at school. She dropped out of high school at 15, her mother said, shortly after she met Joseph Bennett, who was in his 20s.

Bernice married Bennett at 16, and had Kayla, her first child, two years later. Until her father died in 1992, Bernice never allowed Kayla to visit her father without being supervised, her mother said.

After Joey's birth in 1993, Bowen and Bennett divorced.

She and Joseph Bennett signed over custody of their two children to Connie Bowen. Connie Bowen said that at first, the arrangement broke Joey's heart.

"He turned to Joseph and said, "Daddy, I'll be good if you'll take me home with you,' " she recalled.

On Thursday, Bennett recalled the conversation and said he left his children with Connie Bowen so they would have a stable home.

Eventually, Connie Bowen said, she thought Bernice proved she had gotten her life back together and could be a mother again.

"Bernice would call, crying, and say, "I want my kids back, I miss them, I love my kids,' " Hayes recalled.

Connie Bowen released her grandchildren to her daughter, only to receive a phone call from Bernice on Tuesday afternoon.

Bernice Bowen had stepped out of her home to put a broken videocassette recorder in her car when she heard the gunshot, she told her mother.

Rushing upstairs, she found Joey lying in a pool of blood. Carr stood beside him with a gun.

"Baby, it's not my fault," Carr told his girlfriend, according to Connie Bowen. "It was an accident, he was dragging the gun."

It was a story Carr would later tell to police while lying to them about his identity.

Tampa police said Thursday that Bernice Bowen knew Carr had given police a false name when they came to investigate the shooting of her son, and that she should have told them he was a wanted felon with a violent past.

Bernice Bowen could face of obstructing justice in the case, a police spokesman said Thursday.

Thursday evening, Connie Bowen and Rose Hayes were making arrangements for Joey's burial back home in Ohio. Connie Bowen hopes to take Kayla home as well.

"I made a mistake," Connie Bowen said. "I won't make another mistake."

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