Police in Columbus, Ohio, say officers were responding to a report of an armed robbery Wednesday night when they encountered a person who pulled what appeared to be a gun from his waistband.
An officer opened fire, hitting this person “multiple times,” the Columbus police said. He was pronounced dead not long afterward.
Early Thursday, police said the person killed was 13-year-old Tyre King. Detectives investigating the shooting scene said they found what appeared to be a handgun, but “upon further inspection, it was determined to be a BB gun with an attached laser site,” according to a statement from the Columbus police.
“We consider it a tragedy when something like this happens,” Kim Jacobs, the Columbus police chief, said at a news conference Thursday morning. “This is the last thing that a police officer wants to do in their career.”
Tyre is the second-youngest person fatally shot by a police officer this year, according to a Washington Post database.
The youngest person shot and killed by police this year was Ciara Meyer, a 12-year-old in Pennsylvania accidentally struck by a bullet during an eviction. Since the beginning of last year, the only person younger than Tyre and Ciara killed by police was Jeremy Mardis, a 6-year-old shot while his father tried to flee officers in Louisiana.
“Any loss of life is tragic, but the loss of a young person is particularly difficult,” Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said at the briefing. “As a mayor and a father, the loss of a 13-year-old in the city of Columbus is troubling.”
This episode — a white officer fatally shooting a black teenager — came after similar incidents have sparked protests across the country. Relatively little information was available Thursday beyond the initial account provided by police, who said they were gathering details, while the 13-year-old’s family questioned this narrative.
Police in Columbus said they were still seeking video of the shooting, something available when an officer in Cleveland fatally shot Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old with a toy gun, two years earlier. It did not appear the Columbus officers were wearing body cameras. While some officers in the Ohio capital wore cameras during a brief pilot program this summer, Jacobs said this program ended.
Columbus police said officers were called about an armed robbery just after 7:40 p.m. Wednesday. A 911 recording released by police included a man saying he was robbed at gunpoint but not injured.
When officers arrived, the person who reported being robbed said a group of people — one carrying what appeared to be a gun — demanded money, according to the police.
Officers then saw three people they said matched descriptions from the reported robbery and approached them. Two ran away, and the officers followed them into an alley and went to take them into custody, police said. At that point, “one suspect pulled a gun from his waistband,” police officials said, and was shot by an officer.
The 13-year-old was brought to a Columbus hospital and pronounced dead at 8:22 p.m. The officer who shot him, Bryan Mason, is a nine-year veteran of the Columbus police. Jacobs said Mason has been placed on administrative leave for at least a week.
Mason is a “really, really good officer,” Jason Pappas, president of Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9, told the Columbus Dispatch. Pappas, who said he went to the scene and spoke with Mason, said “officers do not have the luxury of knowing if it’s a real gun or not.”
In 2012, Mason was involved in another fatal shooting. Authorities said he shot and killed a man who police say was aiming a gun at another person and refused commands to drop the weapon. Police said the following year that Mason acted within the department’s policies.
Attorneys representing Tyre’s family said “numerous witness accounts” contradict what police said happened Wednesday. They described Tyre as a typical 13-year-old who played sports and said behaviors described by police would have been out of character for him. (Police had initially spelled the 13-year-old’s name as Tyree, rather than Tyre.)
“Please do not rush to judgment…. We do not know what he did or did not do,” Sean L. Walton, one of the family’s attorneys, said in a statement. “There are allegations that have been made regarding his actions, and those allegations cannot be taken as factual until a thorough, unbiased investigation has taken place.”
Officials in Ohio’s largest city called for calm and said they would share information with religious leaders and community members. While officials said the investigation was still beginning, they defended Mason and questioned Tyre’s possession of the BB gun.
“Why is it that a 13-year-old would have nearly an exact replica of a police firearm on him in our neighborhoods?” Ginther said. “An eighth grader, involved in very, very dangerous conduct, in one of our neighborhoods.”
Jacobs said the toy gun looks “practically identical” to firearms carried by Columbus officers, holding up an image of what she said the BB gun looked like at the briefing outside City Hall.
“It turns out to not be a firearm in the sense that it fires real bullets, but as you can see, it looks like a firearm that could kill you,” she said. Jacobs said authorities “are talking about a 13-year-old that we believe was involved in an armed robbery,” saying officers who responded were “ready to deal with an armed suspect.”
After the news conference, the Columbus police also tweeted an image showing what they said was a replica of the BB gun:
— Columbus Ohio Police (@ColumbusPolice) September 15, 2016
Activists in the region questioned the shooting, with the People’s Justice Project saying it “raises many questions” about police training and behavior.
Officer statements were still being gathered Thursday, Jacobs said. Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said when the investigation is complete, information will be presented to a grand jury to decide about possible criminal charges.
Authorities said the other person with Tyre, whom they did not identify and who was not injured, was interviewed and released. Police say they are seeking additional suspects in the reported robbery.
The shooting comes amid scrutiny on how officers use deadly force, an issue spurring protests in Columbus this summer and in other Ohio cities in recent years. In addition to Columbus, a city with 850,000 residents, there have been high-profile police shootings in Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio’s other biggest cities.
In June, weeks before deadly shootings by and of police roiled the country, groups gathered at a Columbus courthouse to protest a fatal shooting involving a 23-year-old man. Demonstrators called for independent prosecutors to investigate police shootings.
Groups in Columbus rallied again in July when the issue of violence involving police was pushed back into the national consciousness after officers fatally shot black men in Baton Rouge and near St. Paul, Minn., and a gunman killed five officers in Dallas.
In Columbus, police shootings are generally deemed to be justified. A Columbus Dispatch review found that since 2004, the city’s police have been involved in more than 170 shootings, and nearly all were deemed to be within the department’s policy.
Tyre’s death in Columbus came nearly two years after the shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Someone had called 911 to report “a guy with a pistol,” and while the caller said this gun may have been fake, responding officers were not told that. Last year, a grand jury declined to indict the officers involved. Timothy J. McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, said the 12-year-old was reaching for the toy in his waistband and called it “indistinguishable” from a real gun.
“The death of Tamir Rice was an absolute tragedy,” McGinty said at the time. “But it was not, by the law that binds us, a crime.” Cleveland agreed this year to pay $6 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the boy’s relatives.
Toy or replica guns can often appear indistinguishable from real weapons, and in shootings involving such fake weapons, officers often say they could not tell the guns were not real. This issue has prompted fears from parents over what will happen if their children are seen with the toys and viewed as armed.
Police have shot and killed dozens of people holding what turned out to be toy guns, with at least 60 such deadly shootings since the start of 2015, according to The Post’s database.
This year, that list has included Kionte Desean Spencer, an 18-year-old shot by Roanoke County police officers while holding a broken BB gun officers say looked real; and Robert Dentmond, a 16-year-old in Gainesville, Fla., holding a toy gun resembling an assault rifle. In April, a 13-year-old boy in Baltimore who ran from police carrying a BB gun was shot and injured.
“I put my own eyes on it,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said at the time. “It’s an absolute, identical replica semiautomatic pistol. Those police officers had no way of knowing that it was not an actual firearm.”
This story, first published at 9:03 a.m., has been updated with new information released during the day.