The body of a missing Overland Park woman was found Tuesday in Arkansas, hours after police shot and killed her estranged husband during a confrontation in Kansas City, Kansas, authorities said Wednesday.
Overland Park police had been searching for 49-year-old Sylvia Ussery-Pearson since she was reported missing Monday.
Her body was found Tuesday, the same day her husband, Charles Pearson, allegedly told employees at a hotel that he had killed his wife, police said. Charles Pearson died soon after in a shootout with officers when he allegedly confronted police with an assault-style rifle near the Legends shopping center.
During a news conference Wednesday, police said Charles Pearson, 51, left a note at his Lenexa home telling investigators where they could find Ussery-Pearson’s body in Benton County, Arkansas.
“We only know that she ended up in Benton County because that’s where Mr. Pearson said that he took her in his note,” said Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez Jr., who also described the note as a diagram. “It was pretty accurate because they found her relatively quickly.”
Ussery-Pearson’s death was being investigated as a homicide, though an autopsy had not been conducted, Donchez said. It was unclear how or where she died.
Asked if police thought Pearson killed his estranged wife, Donchez said investigators were not looking at other suspects.
Detectives with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office found Ussery-Pearson’s body at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Information from Overland Park police led them to the Lost Bridge area of Garfield, Arkansas, near a water tank next to the Whitney Mountain Lodge. The area is more than three hours south of Lenexa.
Donchez said Pearson was a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Army Rangers. He served two combat tours in Iraq, according to the police chief.
“This may or may not be an unfortunate circumstance related to his service,” Donchez said.
Donchez said he did not know if Pearson had been diagnosed with PTSD. The police chief added: “I think that we need to do more for our veterans that do return from combat.”
Pearson worked for less than six months as a compensation and pension manager at the Kansas City VA Medical Center, according to spokesman Vernon Stewart. Pearson quit in late April, he said.
Stewart encouraged any veterans or their family members and friends concerned about a veteran’s mental health to call the veterans crisis line at 1-800-273-8255 ext. 1.
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
How we did this story
The Star began covering this story Tuesday when police killed a man in a shootout in Kansas City, Kansas. At the same time, reporters also followed the case of Sylvia Ussery-Pearson, who had been reported missing. The Star developed information that Ussery-Pearson’s husband, Charles Pearson, was the man killed in the shootout, but did not name him publicly until police confirmed his identity. On Wednesday, when police identified Charles Pearson and called a news conference to announce Ussery-Pearson’s body was found, a reporter and photographer were there.
Shooting in KCK
Overland Park police first issued a news release about Sylvia Anne Ussery-Pearson on Tuesday morning, saying she had been reported missing after she left her home Monday morning and did not return.
That report indicated she may have been with Pearson, Donchez said.
Her disappearance was “extremely out of character for her,” police said. Her family was concerned.
The search for Ussery-Pearson led police to a Lenexa home where her husband lived and, briefly, to a property in rural Cass County. Donchez said investigators went there because Ussery-Pearson’s phone last pinged in the area. Nothing was found there.
During the investigation, Pearson agreed to be interviewed by detectives and was cooperative at the police station, Donchez said. He said he did not know where his wife was.
Pearson gave consent for police to search his car and home in Lenexa. He was released after the interview.
Then on Tuesday morning, Pearson told family members and friends he was suicidal, police said.
Before 9:45 a.m., Pearson entered a Country Inn Suites hotel near the Legends shopping center and reportedly told employees that he had killed his wife, according to witnesses.
“He said, ‘I just murdered my wife, I’m heavily armed and very dangerous,’ and he said, ‘I’m going to the Legends you better call the police,’” said Jacob Honeycutt, the hotel manager.
Honeycutt called police.
Pearson left and police found him nearby, just south of the intersection of Village West Parkway and State Avenue.
When officers made contact with Pearson, he raised an assault-style rifle, said Officer Jonathon Westbrook, a Kansas City, Kansas, police spokesman. Officers tried to convince Pearson to put the gun down, but he fired several shots at officers, Westbrook said.
Officers returned fire, killing Pearson.
It was unclear how many bullets Pearson allegedly fired at officers, or how many officers shot back.
The shooting was under investigation by the police departments of Kansas City, Kansas, and Topeka.
A ‘toxic’ marriage
One of Ussery-Pearson’s friends, Denise Skaggs, went to the couple’s wedding at Union Station.
She described the marriage as toxic.
Ussery-Pearson told Skaggs about two times her husband choked her: Once in the middle of the night, requiring a relative to get him off of her, and once on a cruise, Skaggs said.
Skaggs said Ussery-Pearson believed Pearson suffered from PTSD. Ussery-Pearson wanted her husband to see a counselor but he didn’t think he needed to, according to Skaggs.
Ussery-Pearson told Skaggs “she was done” with the marriage. She wanted a divorce, she said.
Skaggs said Ussery-Pearson moved out of the home earlier this year. Donchez said the couple had been estranged since February.
Ussery-Pearson did not want Pearson to know where she was living since then, but he found out and she saw him “lurking around,” Skaggs said.
“I don’t believe he was able to think clearly,” Skaggs said of Charles Pearson. She thought he suffered from mental health problems and described him as a “loose cannon.”
Before the news conference, Skaggs said she hoped her friend was alive. She added: “I pray he didn’t kill her.”
Skaggs said Ussery-Pearson had three children, including 23-year-old Cameron Hooks, who was shot and killed in Lawrence in 2017.
“She was like a sister to me,” Skaggs said of Ussery-Pearson. “She loved life. She loved her kids.”
In October, Charles Pearson was charged in Johnson County District Court with one misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property, which was labeled as a domestic violence offense.
The charge stemmed from an incident in Lenexa. Pearson allegedly broke a mirror, according to charging documents. The case referenced Sylvia Pearson.
Charles Pearson was booked into jail and was released the next day after posting bond. He was ordered to have no contact with Sylvia Pearson for 72 hours after bonding out, court records showed.
A diversion agreement in the case was signed Nov. 28, 2018.
Charles Pearson was also ordered not to own or possess any firearms or ammunition, the records show.
At the news conference, the police chief said he did not know if Pearson obtained his firearm legally.
Donchez added that domestic violence continues to be a problem. He reminded the public that SafeHome runs a 24-hour hotline for domestic violence victims at 913-262-2868.
Ussery-Pearson’s family asked for privacy, police said. The case remains under investigation.