Robby McMurtry, who was of Comanche descent, was a pillar of the community in the small town of Morris, Oklahoma. He was an acclaimed gallery artist who painted an iconic mural for the city’s library, a published author who created graphic novels, and a popular teacher who taught art to a generation of citizens at the local high school. His status made it all the more shocking when sheriff’s deputies fatally shot him in self-defense.
On Wednesday August 1, the Okmulgee Sherriff’s Department responded to a call about McMurtry, 61, who was alone at the home he shared with his wife. The caller, identified simply as “a family member” by Sherriff Eddy Rice, indicated that McMurtry was suicidal.
Two deputies, Chief Investigator Michael Stacy and Investigator Smokey Patchin, “found the screen door open, looked in, yelled for him; no answer,” Rice said.
One of the officers spotted McMurtry in the yard; he had a machete with him. They attempted to talk with him, but McMurtry became more agitated and ran at the deputies. One deputy attempted to Taser McMurtry, but apparently he didn’t make a good connection. The other deputy had his gun drawn and shot McMurtry. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
“We train for monsters,” Rice said. “We train for serial killers, we train for people that murder people; we don’t train for schoolteachers. If it had been a criminal we were dealing with, they would have never got that close—never.
“He was every person in the county’s art teacher, including my wife,” Rice continued. “It just went bad.”
The two deputies involved both knew McMurtry, and one was a former student of his. They are both on administrative leave while the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation investigates the shooting, which is routine when an officer kills someone in the line of duty.
Fellow artist Murv Jacob was a friend of McMurtry’s; they had a two-man show at the Tulsa Indian Art Market last fall.
“Robby was among the best known artists here in Indian country,” Jacob said. “His paintings, drawings, and novels always captured that Okie flavor that is so oft misconstrued by outsiders. To say his work was romantic would be a laughable understatement.”
McMurtry’s last published work was the graphic novel The Road to Medicine Lodge: Jesse Chisholm in the Indian Nation.