POLICE

Widow of man shot by police in Holladay speaks for first time

May 21, 2021, 10:52 AM

HOLLADAY, Utah — The widow of a man shot and killed by police in Holladay spoke for the first time about what happened to her husband. 

Justified but troubling

Thursday, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled the shooting that killed Matt Hilbelink was justified, but also said it was troubling. In Gill’s findings, he noted police did what their training dictated, but suggested we should ask hard questions about how a call for help for a man threatening suicide could end in his death by officers. 

Alexis Hilbelink spoke with KSL TV about the findings and her husband. She described him as a loving dad and teacher who enjoyed hiking and the outdoors. 

“Matt was a teacher at the Intermountain Christian School for 14 years,” she said. “He had struggles over the years, but I felt like we were on top of it a lot with medication management.” 

According to Alexis Hilbelink, her husband’s mental health suffered during the pandemic, which exacerbated his underlying depression. 

“A lot of the mental health services went away,” she said. 

Then he texted her on an August day with a photo of a gun purchased that morning. She felt blindsided by the message, which said he planned to take his own life. 

“It just escalated so fast,” she said. 

“We hope for help, not for them to shoot”

Alexis Hilbelink dialed 911. 

Body cam video released Thursday of the response to her call for help showed Unified Police officers trying for 24 minutes to get Matt Hilbelink to drop the gun. 

“Talk to us about what’s upsetting ya,” one of the officers said. “It helps to talk about it.”

But tensions rose when Matt Hilbelink raised the weapon, appearing to aim toward the officers. One of the police fired a shot, killing him. Gill found the shooting justified, but said the outcome still troubled him. Did the response unintentionally escalate the situation?

“This is a shooting that did not need to happen,” he said.

Alexis Hilbelink echoed that sentiment. 

“When we call our police officers, we hope for help, not for them to shoot somebody,” she said. “It’s awful to watch all of your kids go through that.”

New law, new hope?

A new state law passed in the 2021 legislative session aims to prevent police shootings in cases of a mental health crisis, such as what happened to Matt Hilbelink. The law would give police the opportunity to pull back from a situation like his, where the threat would have been primarily to himself. 

“Maybe they’ll just back off and be like you know what let’s look at this perimeter, he’s not a threat to anybody else. He’s in a safe spot, he’s sitting down, we can step away and wait and see what happens,” she said.

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Widow of man shot by police in Holladay speaks for first time