Disappeared in Death 

Homeless and mentally ill, Joshua Pawlik was unconscious right before four Oakland police officers killed him in March. His family and friends are seeking answers.

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Others speculated that he may have actually needed the gun for protection.

"It might have been that Josh was suspected of being involved in a big drug rip-off so he might have gotten a gun and he went to Oakland for safety," speculated another friend who asked not to be named because she's a drug user known to the police. "Nobody would know where to look for him in Oakland, but in San Francisco, he'd be easy to find."

In fact, Pawlik called his mother in late February and told her he was staying in an Oakland hotel. He sounded upbeat. He'd recently come back from working at a cannabis grow. But he also mentioned that there was a "hit" out on him by a very serious group of drug dealers who controlled turf in the Tenderloin. Kelly thought her son's warning was simply a paranoid delusion.

This was the first time Pawlik mentioned the money to her and it just didn't seem real. He said he'd been sharing the hotel room in Oakland with another man, whom he didn't identify, but he said this stranger left and never came back. A few days later, when Pawlik checked out of the hotel, he told his mother that he took a bag the man left behind. In it was over $110,000. Kelly thought this, too, was a delusion and dismissed it.

But Pawlik stuck with this story and over several more phone calls, Kelly began to realize that her son had somehow come upon a large amount of money. Pawlik started telling her he'd earned it by investing in Bitcoin. It sounded crazy, but then again, Pawlik had figured out how to invest in Bitcoin and even taught his stepfather how to do it years ago. Still, none of it added up.

How, in the late afternoon on March 11, Pawlik ended up on 40th Street in the side yard between two houses is anyone's guess. But he was carrying the cash and a computer in his backpack as well as the pistol. Whatever he was trying to do — run from someone, hide, stash the money in a secret location, or just rest for a few moments — he wouldn't finish.

Someone called the paramedics because he was unconscious. Swift, his friend and former case worker, remains perplexed by the entire series of events.

"He wasn't someone you would find passed out on the sidewalk," she said. Pawlik was an addict, but he didn't use heroin in unfamiliar, exposed public places. "It doesn't sound like the type of neighborhood he'd be hanging out in, and a location where he'd fall asleep," she said. "It seems like there would have been some events leading up to that where he would have been attacked or harmed by someone else."

A couple weeks after Pawlik was killed, his friends held two separate vigils. One was on the Oakland street where he died. The other, in San Francisco — the city that had become Pawlik's home — started at the Civic Center near the fountain. But before they could finish setting up candles and pictures of their friend, one of the anti-homeless street sweeping crews arrived along with a couple cops. The police ordered Pawlik's friends to leave. They scrambled to pick up the makeshift altar and moved to Minna Street, where another "sweep" was underway, so they moved again to Stevenson Street, another back-alley haunt, but again police told them to disappear.

Howe said the vigil's repeated displacement was ironic. It mirrored the lives of so many homeless youth, unable to find a place, a physical and psychological sanctuary, in which to take shelter, even if just temporarily. Pawlik's community couldn't remember his life without being pushed along by authorities.


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