CHICAGO (AFP) - An officer responding to a robbery report shot dead a 13-year-old boy in Columbus, Ohio, after he drew what turned out to be a low-powered air gun, police said.
The Columbus Police Department said it was investigating the late Wednesday (Sept 14) death of Tyree King, the latest in a string of shootings of African Americans by law enforcement that have fueled protests and national debate about policing tactics in US cities.
It marked the 13th police-involved shooting in Columbus so far this year, five of which have resulted in deaths of suspects and another that killed an officer, according to officials.
King was pronounced dead at Nationwide Children’s Hospital after being shot multiple times after he pulled out a BB gun during a confrontation in an alley, a police statement said.
Officers were dispatched after a report of an armed robbery involving multiple suspects who allegedly approached the victim, one of them brandishing a gun and demanding money.
The officers spotted three males who fit the suspects’ description, but two of them fled as the officers approached them.
The officers followed the two to an alleyway “and attempted to take them into custody when one suspect pulled a gun from his waistband,” police said.
“One of the officers shot and struck the suspect multiple times.” The other suspect was not injured, nor were any of the officers. Police are still searching for the other suspects.
“Crime Search Unit detectives processed the shooting scene and collected what appeared to be a handgun. Upon further inspection, it was determined to be a BB gun with an attached laser sight,” police said.
BB guns have small ball munitions, typically made of steel with copper or zinc coating.
“Officers carry a gun that looks practically identical to this weapon,” police chief Kim Jacobs said at a news conference Thursday.
“It turned out to not be a firearm... that fires real bullets. But as you can see, it looks like a firearm that could kill you.”
Mayor Andrew Ginther said the incident was a “call to action for our entire community.”
“Why is it that a 13-year-old would have nearly an exact replica of a police firearm on him in our neighborhoods? An eighth grader involved in a very, very dangerous conduct.”
Jacobs urged calm, promising to investigate the case “thoroughly,” and said that a grand jury would decide whether criminal charges should be filed against the police officer who shot the boy dead.
The officer was identified as Brian Mason, a white, nine-year veteran of the department who had recently been assigned to the neighborhood where the incident took place.
He has been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation, in accordance with local rules.
The police involved in the incident were not equipped with body cameras and no images of the confrontation have yet to emerge.
“Some of the officers on the scene were very disturbed” because of the boy’s age, Jacobs said.