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A black 7-year-old’s slaying has Houston on edge. Police just released a sketch of the suspect.

January 3, 2019 at 9:27 PM

Chris Cevilla, father of slain 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes, speaks during a news conference on Monday. (Nicole Hensley/Houston Chronicle/AP)

The gunman pulled up alongside the car early Sunday morning.

A mother was driving four of her daughters to a convenience store for juice. The man opened fire, fatally wounding 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes, injuring the girl’s mother, LaPorsha Washington, and sending glass raining down on the other children in the car.

The horrific killing in Houston, on the second-to-last day of the year, has drawn wide attention. It has been denounced by Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and gained traction after being the focus of writer and activist Shaun King and civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt, who say they’ve raised $100,000 in a private fundraising effort for any information leading to the suspect’s arrest.

Authorities have described the suspect as a white man in his 40s. He was previously described as bearded but the Harris County Sheriff’s office released a sketch on Thursday that showed him nearly clean shaven, with some stubble around his jawline. Gonzalez told reporters that investigators had come to believe that the suspect had more of a “five o’clock shadow.”

Related: Sunday: A family felt a black child’s killing was a hate crime. An arrest gave police a ‘new direction.’

Washington told reporters that he was a white man with blue eyes that was so skinny he looked “sick,” according to ABC 13 in Houston.

Officials have also released a photo of the red pickup truck they believe he was driving.

Washington told reporters that the red truck was on the passenger’s side of her car, before going behind her car, switching lanes, and pulling up on the driver’s side before the shooting.

Alexis Dilbert, Jazmine’s 15-year-old sister, told ABC 13 that she saw the suspect's face.

“You know when you’re driving and you look in someone’s car and you make eye contact?" she said. “It was like that.”

At a news conference Wednesday, Gonzalez said that his office was poring through the tips that had flooded into his office after the killing but said that the sheriff’s office did not have any definitive idea of who the shooter was or why he would have targeted the family.

“We still don’t have any linkage to this family,” he said. “So it still seems random.”

Merritt, who is working with Jazmine’s family, said they think the shooting was racially motivated.

“That’s why I was brought on,” he said in a phone interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday. “We want to emphasize the racial nature of the attack and that hate-crime charges are appropriate.”

Activists in Houston have pressed the sheriff’s office for answers on the case, and have also publicly questioned whether it was racially motivated. A rally is planned for Saturday.

“We’re not going to ignore that issue,” Gonzalez said. “Our focus continues to be on the evidence we have and leads we develop, and then the motive we can enhance and determine once we get those facts.”

Merritt and King have been soliciting tips from the public, which they have been forwarding to the police. Merritt acknowledged that many of the tips they had received were not likely to pan out, but said he had heard from an eyewitness whom he believed to be credible and who gave him some details about the truck.

Merritt said Washington and two of her daughters who were injured by broken glass had been taken to the hospital after the shooting. Washington was shot in the arm, officials said.

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Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez spoke to reporters on Jan. 2 about the investigation into the shooting of Jazmine Barnes in Houston on Dec. 30, 2018. (HCSOTexas/Twitter)

Related: Police in East Pittsburgh fatally shoot 17-year-old Antwon Rose as he flees traffic stop

Washington described the harrowing shooting to KTRK, Houston’s ABC TV affiliate.

“As I turned around and looked back at the street, I heard shots start firing and they came through my window, broke my glass, and hit me in my arm. They sped off in front of us and the truck slowed down and continued to fire as he was in front of us,” she said. “It was not fair. He intentionally killed my child for no reason. He didn’t even know her, he didn’t know who she was.”

She said one of her other daughters had been the first to see that Jazmine had been wounded.

“She said, ‘Momma, Jazmine’s not moving. She’s not talking.’ I turned around and my 7-year-old was shot in the head,” Washington said. “My baby comes and asks me, ‘Where’s my sister? Is she coming back?’ She’s only 6 years old.”

Related: Officer who shot Botham Jean says she mistakenly entered his apartment. His family doesn’t believe it.

Merritt said frustration about the case has been building.

“We believe [the police] are out there diligently searching for information,” Merritt said. “As the days go on, it’s becoming more exacerbating. But that’s not a direct criticism of law enforcement, it’s just where we are in the case. We’re not at a happy place in the case.”

Another fundraising effort is afoot to help Jazmine’s family pay for her funeral and other expenses associated with her death. Set up by her father, Chris Cevilla, it raised more than $40,000 as of Thursday morning.

A funeral is planned for Jazmine on Tuesday.

Gonzalez called Jazmine a “wonderful young angel with a full life ahead of her.”

“And it’s our understanding that she wanted to be a teacher,” he said. “That’s been stripped away. We take that very personally.”

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Eli Rosenberg is a reporter on The Washington Post's General Assignment team. He has worked at the New York Times and the New York Daily News.

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