The fatal police shooting late Wednesday of a black 13-year-old boy — who officers say was carrying a BB gun “practically identical” to a real weapon — added a new layer to the country’s painful ongoing debate about race, policing and gun violence.
Police said a man reported being robbed by three men, one of whom had a gun. In the recorded 911 call, he says that they took $10, and that he wasn’t going to make a big deal about it, but other witnesses called to report what happened.
Three people nearby matched the description the victim gave, police said. Officers chased two of them, including eighth-grader Tyre King, into an alley, officials said. Tyre pulled the BB gun from his waistband, police said, and officer Bryan Mason opened fire, hitting the boy several times.
A second person was detained without injury and later released, police said, and a third person got away. Tyre died at Nationwide Children's Hospital about half an hour later. (Police had earlier given the spelling of the teen’s name as Tyree.)
Tyre is black; Mason is white. The case comes at a time of increased tensions over the fatal shootings of black people by white officers, and it has garnered comparisons to the 2014 police shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy shot dead while holding a toy pellet gun in a Cleveland park. Tamir’s death was among those that helped propel the Black Lives Matter movement to national prominence.
City officials said in a news conference that they disagreed with the comparison.
Tyre, a student at Linden-McKinley STEM Academy, was the second-youngest person that police have shot and killed in 2016, according to a Washington Post database of police shootings. The youngest was Ciara Meyer, 12, who was accidentally hit with a bullet during a January eviction in Pennsylvania.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther appeared to choke up Thursday as he called for the community to come together to help ensure children remain safe. He questioned why a teen would have what he described as a replica of a police firearm.
"There is something wrong in this country, and it is bringing its epidemic to our city streets," Ginther said. "And a 13-year-old is dead in the city of Columbus because of our obsession with guns and violence.”
"You have to feel for the family in this and you also have to think about what the officer's going through," said Sgt. Rich Weiner, a Columbus police spokesman. "There's no winners here."
Police were on the defense that morning, sharing a photo of a similar BB gun at a press conference to show that, as Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs said, Tyre’s gun was “practically identical” to the weapons police use. The photo was later tweeted from the Columbus police account.
BB or replica guns can be very similar in appearance to real guns. “In theory, toy guns are supposed to have an orange tip on them or a laser sight so people know the difference,” said Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer and associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, “but often they come without the tip or you just are unable to tell the difference in the heat of the moment.”
Officers were not wearing body cameras at the time of the incident. The city began testing body cameras last month among a group of 30 officers, and officials have said they want to have the camera program fully running by 2017. It’s unclear if there is any bystander cellphone footage, and police said they were looking into possible surveillance video.
The case is being reviewed internally, standard procedure for Columbus police. Jacobs said investigators will share their review with a prosecutor and grand jury, who will determine if there should be criminal charges against the officer. Mason, who has been involved in several shootings during his nine years on the force where he's been cleared of wrongdoing, is currently on administrative leave.
Through an attorney, Tyre’s family released a statement Thursday calling for an independent investigation, and saying that “numerous witness accounts” contradict the police version of their son’s death.
Tyre “was a child who was loved and cherished by his family,” an attorney for the family, Chanda Brown, said in a statement. “The grief is worsened further by the fact that this death comes at the hands of a man who was sworn to protect the citizens of Columbus.”
The family described Tyre as a “typical” teen who loved football, soccer, hockey and gymnastics.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
2:50 p.m.: This post has been updated throughout with new details.
10 a.m.: This article has been updated with new information about the shooting.
9:56 a.m.: This post has been updated with additional comments from Columbus officials.
This article was originally published at 8:20 a.m.