Michael Brice-Saddler, Washington Post, January 6, 2019
In a statement early Sunday, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office announced that 20-year-old Eric Black Jr. was charged with capital murder in Jazmine Barnes’s death. He was identified as a suspect based on a tip, police said, adding that Black later admitted he was involved in the shooting.
Investigators are chasing leads that could result in other suspects being charged, and police said they’re working to verify information on a second individual in the shooting.
The break in the case comes one week after Jazmine was killed in Houston while riding in a car with three sisters and her mother, LaPorsha Washington. A gunman opened fire on the vehicle about 7 a.m. on Dec. 30, injuring Washington and fatally wounding Jazmine while causing glass to rain down on the girls.
Police said in the statement that they do not think Jazmine’s family was the intended target and that they may have been shot at “as a result of mistaken identity.”
Jazmine’s death was publicized in part by the efforts of activist Shaun King, civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt, who represents the family, and numerous celebrities. Merritt and King offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the suspect’s arrest, and King has continuously tweeted updates in the case to his 1.1 million Twitter followers.
Many, including Merritt, speculated that the crime was racially motivated based on early witness accounts of the suspect — who was described by authorities as a “thin white man” in his 30s or 40s.
He [Merritt] added, “We had at least four independent witnesses who believed the shooter in this situation was a white male…. To learn that it wasn’t, isn’t disappointing, but it is surprising.”
Alexis Dilbert, Jazmine’s 15-year-old sister, told ABC 13 in Houston after the shooting that she saw the shooter’s face. Washington told reporters that the shooter was a white man with blue eyes who was so skinny that he looked “sick.”
Gonzalez also acknowledged discrepancies in the suspect’s description, adding that darkness and trauma during the shooting may have impacted the witnesses’s memories.
“It went down very quickly when the gunfire erupted,” Gonzalez said. “You’re talking about small children, they witnessed something very traumatic, and it’s very likely the last thing they did see was indeed that red truck — and the driver in that red truck — and that’s what they remember last.”
In a Sunday tweet, however, officials said the investigation into Jazmine’s killing had taken a “new direction.”
Gonzalez on Sunday said it’s now likely that the driver of that truck was “just a witness by sight or sound to what actually transpired.” Police still want that individual to come forward to shed more light on the case, he said.
“There’s important discussion that does need to take place about race, real fear and concern that hate crimes are in an uptick across this country,” Gonzalez said. He said that gun violence, including in urban communities, should be a point of emphasis in that dialogue.