The death of a 7-year-old girl in a drive-by shooting in Houston was most likely a case of “mistaken identity” involving two suspects, one of whom is in police custody, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said Sunday.
Jazmine Barnes was riding in a car with her mother and three sisters on December 30 when someone in another vehicle shot her in the head.
Eric Black Jr., 20, was arrested Saturday in a traffic stop for not using his turn signal. He is accused of driving the car used in Jazmine’s death, Gonzalez said in a news conference Sunday. He faces a charge of capital murder.
The sheriff declined to name the second person or say if the person was in police custody, citing the pending investigation.
Meanwhile, investigators are still looking for the driver of a red pickup truck reported at the scene, Gonzalez said. They do not believe the driver — described as a white man in his 40s — or the truck were involved in the shooting, he said, despite previous reports suggesting racism played a role in Jazmine’s death.
The latest developments mark a turning point in a case that shocked the nation. At Sunday’s press conference, Gonzalez and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said they hoped Jazmine’s death would lead to more discussions about gun violence prevention.
“This death of Jazmine has sparked a lot of discussion on many different levels and I think that it is good that going forward we continue to have positive dialogue on a number of issues,” Gonzalez said.
Jazmine and her sisters were still in their pajamas when they piled into their mother’s car the morning of December 30.
As they drove to a store for breakfast supplies, a man pulled up next to their car around 7 a.m. and opened fire, Jazmine’s mother, LaPorsha Washington, said.
Investigators identified Black as one of two suspects in Jazmine’s shooting based on an anonymous tip, according to an affidavit read aloud in court Sunday. Gonzalez said that the tipster had approached writer and activist Shaun King days earlier, and King passed the tip on to police.
The anonymous tipster said Black and another person, identified in court as “L.W.,” shot at Jazmine’s family’s vehicle after mistaking it for another one.
Black was pulled over days later for not using his turn signal, according to the affidavit. He was arrested for marijuana possession and questioned by homicide investigators based on the tips, the affidavit said.
Black told investigators that he drove the vehicle used in the shooting while a man in the passenger seat opened fire, according to the affidavit.
Black said the gun used in the shooting was at his home, the affidavit said. He gave officers permission to search for it and they found a 9mm pistol consistent with shell casings recovered from the scene.
How the suspect descriptions changed
S. Lee Merritt, an attorney advising the Barnes family, said Jazmine’s family welcomed news of the arrest — even though the suspect’s race came as a surprise.
Before Black’s arrest, police released a sketch of the suspect, which included descriptions from Jazmine’s mother and three sisters. Authorities said the sketch depicted a white man in his 40s. But Black is a 20-year-old African-American man. Another man who was arrested but has not been publicly identified is also black, Jazmine’s mother told CNN affiliate KTRK.
“It was a major shock to the family,” Merritt told CNN on Sunday morning. “Up until this point, at least four independent witnesses and a composite sketch had identified the primary suspect as a 40-something-year-old white male.”
While it may be difficult to understand the discrepancy, “it is imaginable that witnesses confused a fleeing bystander for the actual shooter,” Merritt tweeted.
Police are still looking for the driver of the pickup truck as a witness to the event, Gonzalez said. Investigators believe the truck came to a traffic signal near the shooting and continued on to the freeway after the shooting.
“We still want that individual to come forward, as it appears this was a case of mistaken identity,” Gonzalez said Sunday.
An outpouring of support
Washington, 30, was shot in the arm, while Jazmine’s 6-year-old sister was hit by shattered glass. Jazmine’s two teenage sisters were not injured. But minutes later, Jazmine was pronounced dead.
Hundreds of mourners gathered Saturday outside the Walmart near where Jazmine was killed.
Washington, still recovering from her gunshot wound, thanked everyone who came to honor her daughter, whose birthday is next month, she said.
“I’m telling you, every time I see one of y’all reach out for me, I can hold my head up,” she said. “I can get up in the morning.”
The tragedy of Jazmine’s death has made a nationwide impact.
Jazmine will also be remembered Tuesday during a “Justice for Jazmine Barnes Community Rally” honoring homicide victims in Harris County, according to organizers.
Services for Jazmine are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday with a viewing at Green House International Church. Her funeral is at noon.
Mourners plan to release purple balloons — Jazmine’s favorite color.