In September 2008, Lisa Wheeler-Bowman’s son, Cabretti, and a friend, were brutally gunned down and murdered while recording music in a makeshift studio in St. Petersburg, Florida. A third victim survived multiple gunshots during the same attack. Reeling from the loss, Wheeler-Bowman began to drink herself to death. But while lying in a hospital bed, she was visited by what she describes as a “vision” of her son.
“Mom, why are you doing this to yourself?” he asked, and Wheeler-Bowman rose up.
The vision helped push her towards a relentless battle for justice on behalf of her murdered son, and a journey that would take her from community activist to successful politician over the next decade.
In the premiere episode of “Relentless With Kate Snow,” airing Friday, Oct. 5, at 8/7c, Wheeler-Bowman will take viewers back to her darkest night and detail the investigation she undertook to bring her son’s killer to justice.
Wheeler-Bowman recently spoke with Oxygen.com about how her son’s murder turned her toward a life of advocacy.
Something changed inside of her in that hospital room, when she had a vision of Cabretti, she said.
“He said, ‘There are so many other people that need you — that need your help,’” Wheeler-Bowman told Oxygen. “As I sat up, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m ready to go.’ I hit the road and just started. I haven’t stopped going since.”
After she helped detectives solve her son’s murder — which viewers will learn about on “Relentless With Kate Snow” — Wheeler-Bowman took an active role in her Wildwood Heights neighborhood of St. Petersburg, Florida, eventually becoming the neighborhood association president. She also served as president of the St. Petersburg Council of Neighborhood Associations before being elected councilwoman for District 7 of the St. Petersburg City Council, according to Florida Politics.
Most importantly, from her perspective, she began infusing youth mentorship and violence intervention and prevention into every initiative she undertook.
“I don’t want another parent to lose a child … and to feel this hurt and pain,” she told Oxygen.com.
For the past six years, Wheeler-Bowman has headed up local little league football and cheer teams, where she knows the parents and mentors the kids. She also headed up a local Urban League outreach program that takes in kids who “were in trouble in school for fighting or something” or had been convicted of their first crime.
When the Not My Son initiative — an anti-crime intervention program for young African-American men — launched in St. Petersburg in 2015, Wheeler-Bowman helped kick it off. She told Oxygen.com that organizers canvas different areas of their city promoting a “safe summer, where no one loses a life,” and parents take pledges to keep track of what their kids are doing.
“Not my son,” she said at one year’s kickoff event, in footage featured on “Relentless.” “You just don’t know how much I wish I could have saved mine. But, God had another plan for my life, and I’m walking in it now. This is our city, and these are our sons, and until you make it personal, we’re gonna keep losing them.”
In 2013, the year that Cabretti’s killer was convicted, Wheeler-Bowman received a special Courage Award from the U.S. Department of Justice, handed to her by then-Attorney General Eric Holder.
“When I met Attorney General Holder, he just gave me the biggest hug,” she told “Relentless” producers.
While representing her district in St. Petersburg, Wheeler-Bowman has become outspoken on the issue of gun violence — supporting universal background checks and pushing for her legislative body to hold a special session on gun violence, according to the Tampa Bay Reporter.
Today, she is raising Cabretti’s two children — ages 10 and 12. The boy, Wheeler-Bowman told Oxygen.com, resembles his dad “from his eyes to the smile.”
“I’m just trying to raise them the best I can, so that they can grow up and be productive citizens, just like my son was,” she added.
She doesn’t plan on lowering her voice any time soon, either, when it comes to gun violence and solutions for at-risk youth.
“I’m definitely going to keep up my advocacy work,” she said. “And I think by doing that, it’s the highest honor that I can give Cabretti.”
Hear the whole, incredible story of how Lisa Wheeler-Bowman challenged the “no-snitching” culture of St. Petersburg’s streets and helped bring her son’s killer to justice on the premiere episode of “Relentless With Kate Snow,” airing Friday, Oct. 4 at 8/7c.
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