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D.C. police chief defends not naming man said to have shot 13-year-old

Robert J. Contee III vowed an impartial investigation into the fatal shooting of a 13-year-old boy by a man who claimed he saw the youth breaking into vehicles

A makeshift memorial on Quincy Street NE, where Karon Blake was shot and killed. (Emily Davies/The Washington Post)
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D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III on Tuesday defended not immediately identifying the man who fatally shot a 13-year-old boy he claimed to have seen breaking into vehicles, and said any charges would probably be decided by a grand jury after the investigation is completed.

At a news conference meant to assuage growing anger and dispel rumors spreading on social media after the killing of Karon Blake early Saturday in Brookland, the chief said the shooter is African American and is not associated with law enforcement.

Three people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive investigation, said the man is a D.C. government employee. On Wednesday, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) confirmed the man works for the city and has been put on administrative leave.

Karon, a student at Brookland Middle School, was shot shortly before 4 a.m. Saturday in the 1000 block of Quincy Street NE, in an incident in which police have released few precise details, including the name of the shooter. Authorities have said a man who lived on the street confronted Karon after he heard noises, then claimed to have seen the boy and possibly others breaking into vehicles. Police have said it appears two other people ran away. They have also said there is no indication Karon was armed, and Contee said Tuesday that they had not recovered a weapon from the youth.

The shooting has sparked a fiery debate among lawmakers and residents over crime and accountability, particularly involving the District’s youth. At least two lawmakers have raised questions about why the shooter has not been charged, including newly elected D.C. Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5), who represents the area where Karon was shot.

More than 200 people filled the gym at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center on Tuesday night for a community meeting on the incident, demanding details of the shooting and at times drowning out a police representative. Karon’s grandfather, Sean Long, 55, told the crowd that if the victim had been White, the shooter would have been arrested by now.

“I didn’t know you could get a gun permit and shoot somebody for messing with a car,” Long said, urging all shootings and violence to stop.

Several speakers told police there is nothing they could say to satisfy anyone in the room. “MPD has failed us again,” said Kwasi Seitu, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 8. Karon’s aunt and grandmother pleaded for calm.

“This isn’t a protest,” the aunt said to applause.

Police have said they are consulting with prosecutors on whether criminal charges should be filed. The U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement that it is “committed to thoroughly investigating this matter.” Morgan C. Kane, an assistant police chief, repeatedly told residents at the meeting that their questions were the same ones investigators were asking. “We want the same thing you want — to find out what happened,” she said.

The chief said at the news conference that he “recognizes the community’s desire in getting details of this incident,” and he promised a thorough review into what he called a “tragic death of a son of our city.”

Contee said identifying the man by name, customarily not done unless criminal charges are filed, would serve no purpose and could harm the investigation. He called social media posts that have purported to identify the shooter “reckless and dangerous.”

“It’s not about getting it fast but about getting it right,” Contee said, adding, “This process takes time.”

Pressure mounts on D.C. police to name resident who killed 13-year-old

As the community meeting drew to a close Tuesday, Karon’s family assembled at the front and held hands in a circle, one holding a bouquet of flowers, and filed out of the gym. A few dozen demonstrators, soon began marching up Quincy Street chanting, “Justice for Karon.”

The founder of one activist group had said previously they were researching property owners on Quincy Street in an attempt to learn the shooter’s identity.

Another group, the Black Swan Academy, a nonprofit that supports local Black youth in becoming civic leaders, likened the shooting to vigilante behavior.

The shooting, the group said in a statement, is “simply another form of gun violence youth across the city have continued to fight against. Black children deserve to live. They deserve to be able to make mistakes and learn from them.”

Contee declined to describe what the shooter told police about the interaction he had with Karon before he shot him. He also would not say how many shots were fired or how many times Karon had been struck. A police report says Karon suffered multiple bullet wounds.

The chief said the man called 911 after he shot Karon and was administering CPR when police arrived. He said the man is among the roughly 34,000 District residents legally registered to possess a firearm in D.C. and one of the roughly 12,000 with concealed-carry permits.

The chief said people can use deadly force to defend their own lives or the lives of other people. He said that is the question investigators are attempting to answer. They are seeking witnesses and reviewing surveillance video that might have captured the confrontation, the chief said.

“I’m not sure we have everything we need just yet,” Contee said.

Ellie Silverman contributed to this report.