Texas authorities have charged a second man in the fatal shooting of a black 7-year-old girl, whose death captured national attention and sparked a manhunt for the killer.
On Tuesday afternoon, Harris County Sheriff’s Office homicide investigators announced that they had filed a capital murder charge against Larry Woodruffe, 24, in Jazmine Barnes’s death. He had been arrested along with Eric Black Jr., 20, on Sunday and held on a felony drug possession charge until investigators could corroborate evidence for the capital murder charge.
In a statement early Sunday, the sheriff’s office had said Black was charged with capital murder. He had been identified as a suspect based on a tip, police said, adding that Black later admitted he was involved in the shooting.
The break in the case came one week after Barnes 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 Barnes’s family was the intended target and that they may have been shot at “as a result of mistaken identity.”
“All evidence gathered so far in the Jazmine Barnes Homicide case supports investigators’ strong belief that she and her family were innocent victims,” the department tweeted Sunday.
barnes’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.
“The family is still really grateful that it seems law enforcement has identified the shooter,” Merritt told The Post on Sunday morning. “However, all the information up until yesterday has been that the shooter was an older white male in a red truck, that came from not only one of the victims, 15-year-old Alexis, but from an eyewitness nearby.”
He 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.”
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said Black was named a suspect in the case thanks to a tip that came in to King, who relayed it to the department. Gonzalez said during a Sunday afternoon news conference that the department has received information on a second individual involved in the shooting but he declined to further elaborate on that person’s role or potential charges.
Police in their Sunday statement did not immediately identify Black as the shooter. Merritt identified Woodruffe as the second suspect in the case, though police did not name him until Tuesday.
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.”
Officials also released a video of a red pickup truck that they believed the shooter was driving.
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.
Gonzalez could not comment on speculation involving possible motives in the killing, though he did reiterate that the intended targets were likely someone else. The case remains under investigation.
On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered at a Walmart near the street where the shooting occurred to rally for Jazmine. The protesters called themselves soldiers in an army crusading on behalf of the slain girl, according to the Associated Press, in what has been a continuous outpouring of support for her family.
Some wielded signs that said “Justice for Jazmine,” mirroring the hashtag used by advocates and police to publicize the killing.
Earlier this week, Houston Texans wide receiver Deandre Hopkins tweeted that he planned to donate his check from Saturday’s playoff game to help Jazmine’s family with funeral costs. A GoFundMe set up for expenses related to the girl’s death had accumulated more than $77,000 as of Sunday morning.
“It is going to be justice for her, and I feel it in the bottom of my heart. There’s going to be justice for her because there’s too many people out there looking for this man,” Washington said at Saturday’s rally.
At the news conference, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said it’s imperative to note that despite hate-crime speculation and the false suspect description, that “no one tried to take the law into their own hands.”
When asked if the speculation before all the details in the case emerged was irresponsible, Lee said “absolutely not.” She said that nothing is off the table when it comes to the death of a little girl, and that Jazmine’s sisters did their best to help law enforcement after the shooting, which is likely the “deepest fear they will ever experience”
“[The community] listened to the process of law and order, and assisted the sheriff in their efforts,” Lee said. “That should be the story.”
Eli Rosenberg contributed to this report.