Friends and family members gathered for a vigil for an Ohio 13-year-old who authorities said was fatally shot by a police officer after the boy allegedly pulled out a BB gun.
On Thursday evening, community members — including youth football teammates of the boy, Tyre King — gathered in the Columbus neighborhood near the site where he was shot the day before.
“He’s really not coming back,” said King’s sister, Marshay Caldwell, who held back tears. “He didn’t deserve to die,” she told the people who attended the vigil, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
King, who is black, died at a hospital after an officer, who is white, shot him several times Wednesday evening outside a house in east-central Columbus, police said. Officers had been pursuing him and because he matched the description of an armed robbery suspect, police said.
City leaders in Ohio’s capital said the shooting would be investigated to determine whether the officer’s gunfire was justified.
King, an eighth-grader, had a BB gun that “looks practically identical” to the type of handgun that Columbus police carry, Chief Kim Jacobs said Thursday.
“This is the last thing that a police officer wants to do in their career. Unfortunately … it becomes necessary at times to defend themselves,” Jacobs told reporters.
The officer who shot King, Bryan Mason, a 9-year veteran of the force, will be placed on leave for at least a week during an investigation, Jacobs said.
Victim’s family disputes police narrative
Attorneys who represent the teen’s family released a statement saying that what police described is “out of (King’s) normal character.”
Lawyer Sean Walton said there are witnesses who do not corroborate what authorities say happened.
“There are allegations that have been made regarding his actions, and those allegations cannot be taken as factual until a thorough, unbiased investigation has taken place,” he added.
The family said in a statement that King was a boy who liked what a lot of teenagers liked. He played football, hockey and soccer and did gymnastics
“Tyre was a child who was loved and cherished by his family,” attorney Chanda L. Brown said.
Events before the shooting
The shooting happened after a man told police that a group had pulled a gun on him and stole an unspecified amount of money, police said.
Officers eventually saw three people matching the alleged robbers’ descriptions, and two of them — including King — ran, police said. When officers caught up to them and tried to arrest them in an alley, King pulled what appeared to be a handgun from his waistband, and Mason shot him, police said.
The weapon turned out to be a BB gun with a laser sight attachment designed to help a shooter’s aim, according to police.
At Thursday’s news conference, Jacobs held a picture of an example of the type of BB gun she said was involved.
The gun “turns out not to be a firearm in the sense that it fires real bullets, but … it looks like a firearm that can kill you.”
Investigators didn’t yet know whether the BB gun had been fired, police spokesman Sgt. Rich Weiner said.
Mason, the officer who police said shot King, had shot and killed someone while on duty before. In 2012, while responding to a 911 call at a Columbus home, he fatally shot an armed man, Weiner said.
The officer’s actions were found to be within policy, so Mason was not disciplined, Weiner said. The police department gave Mason an award for bravery in 2010.
Two years after Tamir Rice’s shooting
The Columbus police chief dismissed parallels made between King’s death and that of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy who was shot and killed by a police officer in Cleveland in November 2014.
“We don’t have enough facts to know anything about how this relates to any other shooting, including Tamir Rice’s,” Jacobs said.
Rice had been drawing an airsoft gun from his waistband when Officer Timothy Loehmann, who is white, fired the fatal shots within two seconds of arriving outside a recreation center where the sixth-grader was on a playground, a prosecutor said. The boy died a day later.
Loehmann, who responded after a 911 caller reported seeing someone with a pistol that might have been fake, said he thought the boy appeared older and had a real gun. Police said the orange tip that distinguishes air pistols from real ones had been removed from the gun.
A grand jury in 2015 chose not to indict the two responding police officers. Cleveland later settled with Rice’s family for $6 million.
Air gun laws
Neither Ohio nor the city of Columbus restrict possession of guns like BB guns — which use air instead of gunpowder to project ammunition — by age.
Ohio regulates air guns only in rest areas and roadside parks. State law bans the exhibition, use or firing of pellet, BB and airsoft guns in those areas.
According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 23 states and the District of Columbia regulate non-powder guns and 11 of them have age restrictions.
Hannah Shearer, a staff attorney for the San Francisco-based organization, said the mass proliferation of all types of guns in public spaces leads to disastrous problems. And one factor about air guns compounds the dangers, she said.
“Their proliferation in public is dangerous for the same reasons traditional firearms are, but also for an additional reason: they endanger kids who carry them in instances where someone (like a police officer) mistakes it for a different type of weapon,” Shearer said.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission says about four people are killed each year by BB or pellet guns. It recommends that children younger than 16 not be allowed to shoot such guns.