Hal Bowman: A friend, 'pioneer' taken by terror

Written by Gordon Rago/York Daily Record | Dec 8, 2015 12:27 PM

Photo by AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

People hold candles during a vigil for shooting victims last Thursday, at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino, Calif.

San Bernardino shooting victim Harry Bowman, who grew up in York County, remembered by classmates

(Undated) -- Rich Coffeen remembers when his best friend, Harry "Hal" Bowman, gave a speech the day the Dallastown Area High School class of 1987 walked across the stage for graduation.

Bowman knew there were going to be other speeches before him. It was a long day, and people were bound to be tired. So, Coffeen recalled, Bowman wanted his opening line to be a good one.

Something funny. Something people would remember. And Coffeen didn't forget it.

"If you're alive now, you're going to die," the speech began, as Coffeen recalled it.

Close to 30 years later, Coffeen was remembering his high school friend just for that reason -- Bowman, 46, was one of 14 people killed Wednesday in San Bernardino, Calif., where two shooters opened fire at the Inland Regional Center.

The massacre, which the FBI said is being investigated as an act of terrorism, happened nearly 3,000 miles from York County. But news of Bowman's death reverberated through the Dallastown Area High School class of 1987, many of whom spoke about the shooting on social media.

"My best friend got killed by terrorists," Coffeen said in a phone interview from his home in Deerfield, Ill., where he is a youth pastor. "What the hell? Really? It's just so surreal."

For Coffeen, learning about his friend's death has been difficult because he had been wanting to reconnect with him. The two lost touch after college. Coffeen went to Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster; Bowman completed his undergraduate studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Both friends were in each other's weddings.

In high school, they were part of each other's families, with frequent sleep overs. Coffeen remembers when he and Bowman would stay up late at night talking -- Bowman "had the deepest voice of anyone," Coffeen said -- and Coffeen's mother would storm downstairs to tell them to keep it quiet.

"I've had two best friends in my life," Coffeen said. "My wife right now and Hal. The only two people I've truly shared my life with."

In high school, debating and running 

Before Bowman was the best man in Coffeen's wedding, he was his debate partner at Dallastown Area High School for four years. The team might not have had the same amount of resources as other, larger schools they competed against, but they were still successful.

"What we had was brainpower," Coffeen said.

Coffeen and Bowman, along with other two-person teams from Dallastown, won several awards. Coffeen has held onto local newspaper clippings that show the two proudly holding up trophies. In the photos, Bowman is dressed in a shirt and tie, wearing thick-framed glasses and a mustache.

Bowman typically wrote the plans before a debate. The two would also scour the library at York College where they would read government records on the weekends to help in the debates.

"Hal was a genius," Coffeen said. "He was the smartest person I've ever known."

A few classmates of Bowman's say they lost touch with him after high school graduation, but Dallastown still followed Bowman when he moved to California about 15 years ago.

Roland Hosch, who graduated with Bowman, lives in San Bernardino, where he and his wife work at an elementary school.

Hosch didn't find out that Bowman was living in the area until his name was released by the police as one of the victims of Wednesday's shooting. That's when Hosch also found out that Bowman's daughter went to the same high school as his son.

As a resident of San Bernardino, Hosch said the shooting made him angry. York was where he grew up, but he now considers California home.

"It hit me like a ton of bricks," Hosch said Saturday in a phone interview about the shooting. "I was angry. But it wasn't until I found out about Harry that I became sad. It made the incident personal."

Terrorism research

Prior to his job with San Bernardino County, Bowman was one of the first employees for a counter-terrorism center at the University of Southern California, according to a blog post by the center and other media, including The Associated Press.

The Center for Risk Analysis of Terrorism Events, or CREATE, was "dedicated to preventing the type of event experienced this week" in San Bernardino, the post reads.

Bowman worked with others at USC to create a counter-terrorism modeling framework. He was called a "pioneer" of the program.

"The loss of life this week reminds us that we cannot cease to seek the end of violence that takes the lives of so many innocent people," Dr. Randolph Hall, of the center, wrote on the blog.

The director of the center, Detlof von Winterfeldt wrote a similar message.

"(Bowman's) death is a reminder that terrorism can and does strike us all, whether local or abroad," he wrote. "Our condolences go out to his family."

This article comes to us through a partnership between York Daily Record and WITF.

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