The 18-year-old man who was shot and killed by an off-duty St. Louis police officer last week had gunpowder residue on his hands and clothes, according to forensic information released Tuesday.
Vonderrit Myers Jr.'s death on Oct. 8 has drawn scrutiny in St. Louis and in the national media after his family alleged that he was holding a sandwich and not a gun when an officer fired at him 17 times, hitting him seven or eight times.
Police said Myers first fired three times at the officer and missed after a chase and a struggle.
Myers' case has since been embraced by some activists closely involved in the demonstrations over the police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9. Both Myers and Brown were black men fatally shot by white officers. Although the circumstances surrounding the shootings are different — Brown was unarmed when he was shot — some activists say the two deaths show that police unfairly target black men.
Over the weekend, Myers’ name was often mentioned at a series of demonstrations and rallies in Ferguson and St. Louis to protest police shootings.
The gunpowder tests conducted by the Missouri State Highway Patrol showed residue on Myers' hands, shirt and the inside of his waistband, according to a release from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. The department said the residue was not necessarily definitive proof that Myers had fired a gun.
“Individuals shot at close range can have gunshot residue deposited onto their hands,” the statement said. “The presence of gunshot residue on the jeans and shirt could be from being in the environment of a discharged weapon or coming in contact with an object with gunshot residue on it.”
A police spokeswoman declined to release the officer’s name and did not answer a message asking why.
The officer's police union attorney, Brian Millikan, said at a news conference Tuesday that the officer had stopped Myers because he allegedly had run away and had pulled up his sagging pants from the front and not the sides. That indicated Myers might have a gun in his waistband, Millikan said.
The officer “was in uniform; he had an obligation to act,” Millikan said.
Millikan also said the officer later recognized that the type of gun Myers purportedly fired at the officer was one of three guns that could be seen on Myers' lap in social media photos.
Myers had been under house arrest for a pending felony weapons case in which he had been accused of dumping a pistol in a storm drain while running away from an officer this summer, according to court records.
In last week’s shooting, a shop owner and a witness said they had not seen Myers with a gun while he was buying a sandwich with friends shortly before the incident.
An attorney for Myers’ family, Jerryl Christmas, said that family members believed Myers didn’t have a weapon and that they wanted a “thorough and fair” investigation into their only son’s death.
“We don’t even know who this officer is. We don’t know anything about him. We’re learning quite a bit about Vonderrit,” Christmas said.
An activist closely involved with the Ferguson demonstrations, DeRay McKesson, 29, said the police union news conference “was a reminder that the mind-set of St. Louis officers continues to lead to the death of black men.”
“If it was a white boy who grabbed his waist at 7 o’clock at night, his assumption would not have been that ‘he must have a gun,’” McKesson said.