A young black man was shot to death by an off-duty white police officer in St. Louis on Wednesday night, and a tense crowd gathered at the scene nearly two months to the day after a white policeman shot an unarmed black man to death in the nearby suburb of Ferguson.
This time, police say, the man was armed and shot at the officer, who returned fire. But people who identified themselves as family members said the dead man was holding a sandwich, not a weapon.
The shooting happened about 7:30 p.m. in the 4100 block of Shaw Boulevard in south St. Louis when the officer attempted a “pedestrian check,” St. Louis police spokeswoman Schron Jackson said in an email. Police did not elaborate on what a pedestrian check is or why it is done.
Jackson said the officer was working a department-approved security job and wearing his uniform when he confronted the pedestrian.
“The male suspect fled on foot,” Jackson said. “The officer pursued the suspect. The suspect turned and fired a gun at the officer. Fearing for his safety, the officer returned fire, striking the suspect, fatally wounding him. The officer was not injured.”
At a news conference early Thursday, St. Louis police Chief Sam Dotson told reporters that the officer fired 17 times after the suspect had fired three shots at him. Dotson said he did not know how many times the suspect had been hit. He said that a 9-millimeter Ruger had been recovered, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and that the dead man “was no stranger to law enforcement."
The man was 18 to 20 years old, Jackson said. The officer, who is 32, has been placed on administrative leave. He has been on the force six years, Jackson said, adding, “The investigation is ongoing."
Tyrone Myers on Thursday identified the dead man as his nephew, 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers.
“All I know is he came out the store with a sandwich,” said an emotional Tyrone Myers by phone. “Next thing, he’s shot several times by a cop who was chasing someone else.”
Teyonna Myers, 23, of Florissant, Mo., who said she is Tyrone Myers’ daughter, and whose last names in some early reports was misspelled as Meyers, also told the Post-Dispatch that he was holding a sandwich.
“He was unarmed,” she said. “He had a sandwich in his hand and they thought it was a gun. It’s like Michael Brown all over again.”
Hours after the shooting, #ShawShooting was trending worldwide on Twitter.
Dozens of people came to the scene, which is near the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman who took to social media to document the unrest that followed the fatal shooting of Brown, 18, on Aug. 9 in the predominantly black suburb of Ferguson, wrote on Twitter:
“At the scene of yet another young man’s death. This happens too often in our city. It’s a crisis that we should all be concerned about.”
French continued: “The victim’s mother was here. She fainted. An ambulance came to attend to her. There is nothing like a mother’s pain at the loss of a child.”
Brown was killed after a confrontation with Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson. A St. Louis County grand jury is hearing evidence and considering charges against Wilson.
“In case we needed another reminder, this is not about the city of Ferguson,” French tweeted. “This is about all of St. Louis -- and beyond.”
Several police cars were damaged during the protests after Wednesday’s shooting, but police made no arrests, Dotson said.
Los Angeles Times staff writer Kurtis Lee contributed to this report.