PART 3: Boy’s dream of leaving trouble behind dies in a gunfight with Salem police

Salem police considered the 16-year-old so dangerous they deployed a SWAT team to arrest him.

Robert “Bobby” Fletemier Brown had been evading police for weeks, staying in the east Salem home of a friend.

He was wanted that summer of 2022 for two violent shootings in downtown Salem in a year of escalating danger in the city.

By the end of the year Salem endured 20 shootings of people. One in five victims and suspects were teens 17 and younger, according to a city report.

A four-man team of Salem police officers working the shootings were told the teen had scored 50 on a “threat matrix.” Anybody scoring over 30 meant a mandatory SWAT mission.


Part 1: A Salem teen, put in state care as an infant, struggles with adoptive parents. He takes to the streets as violence surges in the capital city.

Part 2: Salem’s gang conflicts reached a boiling point in spring 2022, with Bobby Brown suspected of two shootings in public places downtown.

Part 3:  Bobby Brown’s life and his hopes of starting over in another state are cut short at 16 in a fatal gun battle with police.

Police intended to arrest Bobby for a March 2022 shooting in the Salem Center that scattered shoppers, shattered glass entry doors and put one teen boy in the hospital with serious injuries.

Bobby also was to be charged with attempting to kill a man by shooting him a block from downtown’s transit center three months after the mall gunfire.

Surveillance teams had been on the prowl throughout Salem to find Bobby. They eventually tracked him to a friend’s house. The area is about as far east as a person can go in Salem before all that’s visible is farmland.

One detective assigned to his case watched from his parked car as Bobby smoked in the backyard.

The plan was to catch Bobby while he was walking away from the house or sitting in a car. 

While police were searching for Bobby Brown in spring 2022, he lived for weeks with a friend in east Salem. The friend asked not to be identified but agreed to help tell Bobby’s story and was photographed as a silhouette on May 28, 2024. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Shortly after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, Bobby sat in the rear seat of a red Toyota Corolla parked curbside in front of the friend’s home.

An older friend who had recruited Bobby into his Norteño-affiliated gang sat in the front passenger seat, next to his girlfriend in the driver seat. A fourth friend sat in back, beside Bobby.

As police watched, they saw a few puffs of thick, white smoke wafting away from the car. 

They moved in to arrest Bobby, using unmarked undercover vehicles. A passenger van pulled to the front, a pickup truck to the rear, boxing in the Toyota.

Passengers would later say they didn’t know who was in those other vehicles. The friend next to Bobby heard what he thought were gunshots. They were police flashbangs, used to disorient people.

Bobby instantly pointed a SAR9 9mm pistol out the window and fired six shots. He hit one officer in the ankle.

Three officers returned fire with 20 shots.

Bullets hit Bobby in the head and chest.

Bobby Brown shoots from a car at Salem police officers moments after they moved in to arrest him and set off flashbangs, used to disorient people (Marion County District Attorney’s Office)

The rear passenger had ducked and heard what he thought was a bullet “swoosh” by his head. He couldn’t take his eyes off Bobby, unresponsive on the pavement.

The friend later wondered if Bobby thought he was under attack by rival gang members.

Bobby died at the scene, and word spread in law enforcement circles about the fatal police encounter.

A Keizer police detective photographed a Toyota Corolla around 90 minutes after Bobby Brown shot from the car at Salem police officers who returned fire, killing him on July 13, 2022. Portions of the photo were redacted by authorities. (Marion County District Attorney’s Office)

AJ Gosney, the boy’s parole officer, read on social media that a teenager had died in a shootout with Salem police. He went to his supervisor. 

“I have a gut feeling that this was Bobby,” he said.

In Michigan, Heidi Fletemier soon got a call from her ex-husband, sharing what he knew.

She wasn’t keeping up with Salem news at the time and was never told about the earlier shootings that her adoptive son was suspected of until the day he died.

Fletemier was stunned. She hung up the phone and cried.

“He’s dead. He’s gone,” she recalled thinking. 

“I knew Bobby was high risk of ending up dead or in prison. I had known that since he was 12 or 13. But what I had hoped is he would make it through those troubled teen years and come out the other side,” she said.

“I had hoped that his brain would develop, that he would stop running towards danger, that he’d stop running (to) the streets, that he’d choose something else for himself. And when he died, there’s no hope left. He didn’t make it through. He’s not going to come out the other side. He’s not going to turn into a healthy adult down the road. It’s over. He’s gone.”

An aerial view shows the aftermath of a shootout between Bobby Brown and Salem police officers on Northeast Oak Park Drive in east Salem. Two unmarked undercover police vehicles boxed in a red Toyota Corolla to arrest Bobby before he shot at officers from the car on July 13, 2022. (Marion County District Attorney’s Office)

The community learned in detail what happened nine days after the shooting, when Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson released an account of the gunfight, announcing that the three officers were justified in killing Bobby.

Meantime, Fletemier flew to Salem to bury her son. She bought a dress shirt, a tie and pants for his last outfit.

State police dispatched detectives to the area near Bobby’s funeral service, concerned about gang members showing up.

Bobby’s friends mourned his death, paying tribute on social media and with spray paint.

Some of his enemies mocked his death and taunted his grieving friends. One message on Instagram declared, “May he rest in piss.”

The funeral for Bobby was private. When Fletemier went to her son’s open casket to tell him goodbye, she could feel the bullet hole in his head.

He was cremated after the service and buried in the urn garden at City View Cemetery.

A relative made two military dog tags with identical Bible verses. Fletemier put one in Bobby’s urn and kept one for herself, along with a lock of his hair and a measure of his ashes.

His gravestone shows a tree in memory of those he used to climb at Minto-Brown Island Dog Park. It reads, “Our Bobby, rest in peace. You were always loved.”

“Bobby was loved by a lot of people,” Fletemier said. “But he just couldn’t see it.”

Fletemier said she wouldn’t have suspected Bobby in the downtown shootings. She was unaware he was wanted on charges for those shootings.

She also thought the way police tried to arrest him was “beyond stupid.” Having been exposed to meth before birth, Bobby’s brain didn’t regulate emotions normally, she said. 

She said a flashbang likely triggered a panicked fight-or-flight response.

“If he had access to guns, the writing’s on the wall. There was no other way that was going to end,” she said.

The family didn’t have guns at home, she said, and she wonders how apparently easy it was for her son to get one. If he didn’t have that access to guns, he wouldn’t be dead, she said.

“He’s 16. He’s not going to go out and get a gun himself,” said the friend he stayed with, who talked on condition of not being identified. “Somebody had to have given it to him.”

Police have not traced where he got it.

Fletemier doesn’t know what, if anything, would have changed Bobby’s course. His parents had a difficult marriage, and he was a troubled kid. 

Her son long needed intensive help, she said.

“I just couldn’t get the system to take me seriously quick enough,” she said. “They just weren’t seeing what I was seeing.” 

“He was being manipulated and I think controlled.”

– AJ Gosney, juvenile parole officer

Bobby had planned to move out of Salem after getting fed up with bad influences. It dawned on him within the last month of his life that people were using him to do their dirty work.

“I think he started to realize that’s not what he wanted for himself,” one friend said.

Bobby was saving money at the time to move to Arizona with his girlfriend and start a pressure washing business.

A year after his death, his girlfriend took to social media with a message for him.

“U never gave up and still enjoyed everyday to the fullest up until your last,” she wrote. “I learned so much about the type of person you are and how hard you love even when people don’t deserve it.”

She mentioned how he was “so ready to leave Oregon.”

A table shows that between 2021 and 2023, the share of teenagers arrested for aggravated assaults tripled from the previous three years. (Salem Gun Violence Problem Analysis)

As she wrote, Salem was preparing to release findings of research into the state of gun violence in the city. The city initiative was prompted in part by Bobby’s shootings.

The report, finished in November 2023, confirmed growing community worries that Salem had become increasingly unsafe. Shootings in the city had doubled in recent years, and the number of teens arrested for serious assaults had tripled. As many as eight of 10 shootings involved members of gangs or more informal groups. 

To engage citizens, police and city officials went to east Salem to share findings and ask for help.

Less than 24 hours after the police meeting, another 16-year-old boy was killed by gunfire.

The daytime shooting at Bush’s Pasture Park on March 7 left the community reeling. Prosecutors charged another boy, also 16, with the shooting and are seeking to try him as an adult.

Had he survived, Bobby was likely headed for the adult justice system and possibly state prison. His juvenile history and the severity of his accusations would’ve made him a candidate for adult court, according to his parole officer.

His death profoundly affected Gosney, who had never lost a client. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about Bobby and his family.

He struggles to think of what he could have done that would’ve saved Bobby’s life, such as keeping him in Oregon Youth Authority custody longer.

“Best practice is if a kid is demonstrating he doesn’t need to be in that level of care, get him out,” he said. “It’s easy to look back in hindsight and say I wish I could’ve done something differently, but this is not the case. I was very thorough and by the book.”

The law also isn’t to blame, Gosney said. In crimes before the shootings, Bobby was appropriately prosecuted in the juvenile system because charges didn’t warrant treating him like an adult.

As sharp as Bobby was, Gosney said, he wasn’t sophisticated enough to navigate the gang lifestyle. 

“He was being manipulated and I think controlled, because his intent to be antisocial, it came across to me as more of a facade,” he said.

Gosney said that Bobby had the chance to adjust and avoid more legal trouble.

“I really wanted Bobby to be the example that you can move on from this, and he had the potential to do it. We knew it,” he said. “He never could get his heart and his mind to align with his future in a prosocial way.”

He recalled spending hours with Bobby when he was at the Burns juvenile center, back in 2021.

“You could get lost in time in conversations with him because that’s how authentic and true he was,” Gosney said. “When you get him in that space, you’ve got to scratch your head and say, ‘How did this kid ever end up in the system?’”

“We’d talk about his dreams and hopes,” he said. “I think he would’ve been great at anything that he wanted to do.”

Bobby Brown’s gravestone at City View Cemetery in Salem reads, “Our Bobby, rest in peace. You were always loved.” It shows a tree in memory of those he used to climb at Minto-Brown Island Dog Park. Flowers remained at the site on May 29, 2024. (Ardeshir Tabrizian/Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.