‘Jazmine’s army’ rallies after fatal shooting of Houston 7-year-old
Shot in the shoulder in an attack that killed her 7-year-old daughter, LaPorsha Washington returned to the scene Saturday with her left arm in a sling to thank the public for its help in trying to bring the still unidentified gunman to justice.
“We’re going to find him no matter what corner we have to turn, no matter what rock we got to go under. We’re going to find you,” Washington, 30, told a crowd of nearly a thousand people gathered in a Walmart parking lot in northeast Houston.
Jazmine Barnes’ death — which her family believes was racially motivated — has sparked national attention, driving police, NFL and NBA players to donate to the family, activists to post a $100,000 reward for the arrest of her killer and volunteers dubbed “Jazmine’s army” to canvass neighborhoods near the shooting scene. On Saturday, however, authorities appeared no closer to finding the man who shot into the family’s car during a morning coffee run Dec. 30.
Jazmine’s father, Chris Cevilla, also spoke at the rally, along with some of a dozen other relatives in attendance. Washington’s sister, Sharonica Watt, became distraught as she pleaded with the killer to turn himself in.
“We’re coming for you,” she said. “We just want to know why — why did you do it?”
Washington and her three surviving daughters helped investigators craft a sketch of the suspect, whom they described as a white man in his 30s or 40s with hollow cheeks and blue eyes wearing a black hoodie. Harris County sheriff’s detectives released video of the man’s red truck, captured by security cameras before the shooting. They are reviewing whether the attack is connected to a 2017 shooting a few miles away that wounded A’Vonta Williams, now 22.
Williams’ mother spoke at Saturday’s rally, wearing a “Justice for Jazmine” T-shirt that featured a picture of her son on the back.
“We will continue to fight for Jazmine and her family because this has got to stop,” Kisshima Williams said.
Jazmine’s great-grandmother, Jacqueline Holmes, urged those who may know the suspect to contact investigators.
“If there’s a friend of this evil man out there, please, please help me get him,” Holmes told the crowd.
The family’s attorney, S. Lee Merritt, and Intercept columnist Shaun King posted the reward and have been screening tips. They have three promising leads, Merritt said. Their list includes a parolee with a lengthy criminal record whose mug shot — resembling a sketch of the suspect — has circulated online among family supporters since his arrest the same afternoon as the shooting for stealing a woman’s purse about 30 miles north of Houston. The man remained in jail Saturday.
Merritt said he and King forwarded their leads to sheriff’s investigators, but he was not encouraged.
“We aren’t any closer than we were six days ago” to catching the attacker, he said.
Merritt said Jazmine’s family didn’t hear the shooter say anything at the time he fired. But they believe the attack was racially motivated because he could see them, had no other reason to strike and may have been emboldened by “the racial climate of the nation,” Merritt said.
“This was an unprovoked shooting,” he said.
Jazmine’s funeral is scheduled Tuesday. Retired Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal and a Houston police officer are paying for it, and Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins donated his $29,000 paycheck from Saturday’s playoff game to the family.
Most of those at Saturday’s rally were black, and several speakers complained about feeling unsafe in a country where white supremacists appear emboldened and hate crimes are on the upswing.
“America is becoming a very dangerous place,” said Houston-based activist Deric Muhammad.
“We’ve got to let them know that an attack on one of us is an attack on us all.”
Houston-based Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) urged those at Saturday’s rally to contact the Justice Department to demand a national task force investigate.
“Jazmine is everyone’s child, the nation’s child,” she said. “The nation cannot abandon us here in Houston.”
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has said it’s not clear whether the shooting was racially motivated, and he made a general plea at the rally for the public’s help. “We must stop this violence against anyone. And we will not stop until we get justice for Jazmine,” Gonzalez said.
“Help report those tips, help coordinate, help go get the message out, because we’re always just one phone call away from being able to break this case.”
Residents of the surrounding Woodforest neighborhood said racial tensions have flared in recent years as the middle-class area diversified. Randrell Alexander, 41, has lived in the vicinity for two decades, and said she has had runs-ins with white shoppers at the Walmart near the shooting scene and had avoided the store for several days after the shooting. She returned Friday, but her 13-year-old son refused to go.
“He’s afraid,” she said.
So are other black parents in the area, who said they have kept their children and grandchildren home since the shooting.
Juanita Bell, 65, said she had to reassure her granddaughter, Heaven House, 7, who asked, “Is that going to happen to us?”
But with the shooter still at large, Bell fears he could strike again. She worries what to do Monday, when Heaven returns to school. Their normal route takes them right past the shooting scene.
Bell wondered aloud: “Do I go a different way?”
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