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Antwon Rose, unarmed teen shot and killed by East Pittsburgh police, remembered as ‘a true joy’

An East Pittsburgh police officer fatally shot 17-year-old Antwon Rose on June 19. Here's what we know about the encounter. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)
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Three summers before he was fatally shot by a police officer, Antwon Rose Jr. had a simple request.

He emailed Gisele Fetterman in 2015 asking if he could volunteer for her organization, which distributes donated goods to community members in need.

It was remarkable, Fetterman recalled, that a 14-year old would decide on his own to spend time serving the community. She brought him on board, putting him to work at the Free Store in Braddock, near Pittsburgh.

“He was friendly, easy to work with, smart, vibrant,” Fetterman told The Washington Post on Thursday. “He was a caring person, and everyone loved him.”

She and others in the area are reeling after the fatal shooting of Rose on Tuesday — the latest instance of police killing an unarmed black male.

The fatal encounter occurred while police investigated a drive-by shooting in nearby North Braddock borough; a silver Chevrolet Cruze that Rose and two suspects were in matched a witness description of the vehicle involved in that shooting, authorities said.

An officer stopped their car at 8:40 p.m., and Rose and another male fled. An East Pittsburgh Police Department officer fired three rounds as the two males were running away, striking Rose “several” times.

A graphic video of the incident shows Rose tumbling to the ground feet away from the car. He was pronounced dead at a hospital soon after.

Two firearms were recovered from the vehicle, police said, but Rose was unarmed when he was shot. The officer has been placed on leave while the Allegheny County Police Department investigates the incident.

Dozens of protesters demonstrated outside the East Pittsburgh Police Department on Wednesday night. “If they want to shoot us, make them do it in our backs,” one protester said into a megaphone, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Nationwide, police have shot and killed at least 491 people so far in 2018, according to a Washington Post database tracking such shootings. Of them, at least 90 of the people fatally shot – 18 percent – have been black.

Black people have been the victims in 23 percent of fatal police shootings since January 2015, when The Post began tracking these shootings, and account for 36 percent of the unarmed people who have been shot and killed during that time.

Rose is the only person who has been shot and killed by an East Pittsburgh Police Department officer since 2015, when The Post began collecting data on officer-involved shootings.

His death was a shocking development for those who saw great potential, family attorney S. Lee Merritt told The Post on Thursday.

The teen’s mother once worked in a clerical position for a different police department, he said. Seeing her son killed by police has been especially horrifying.

“This pattern observed across the country has come to visit them,” Merritt said.

The driver of the Chevrolet Cruze in which Rose was riding was detained and questioned but released without charges the same night, Allegheny County Police Department spokeswoman Amie Downs told The Post.

Downs said the victim of the drive-by was struck and returned fire. The Chevrolet Cruze suffered bullet damage in its rear, including a shattered window, she said.

The driver of the vehicle was using it as a “jitney,” or an illegal, low-cost private car that picks up passengers, Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough said at a news conference, raising the possibility others may have been riding in the car at the time of the drive-by. Seventeen minutes passed between reports of shots fired and the officer stopping the car, police said.

Authorities are still searching for the other passenger who fled on foot with Rose.

“It is difficult to find justification in the shooting,” Merritt, the family attorney, said in a statement. “These facts, without more, simply leave very little room to justify the use of deadly force by this officer.”

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The officer who killed Rose, Michael Rosfeld, was identified by the Allegheny County Police Department on Thursday. The East Pittsburgh Police Department declined to provide details about the officer, referring questions to the county police. The city’s mayor, council and police released a joint statement that said, in part, “we are profoundly saddened” and promised transparency while asking the public to be patient while the investigation proceeds.

East Pittsburgh Mayor Louis Payne did not immediately return a request for comment.

Merritt said he has yet to hear from the authorities about the officer’s history and conduct, but KDKA reported that he was sworn in as an East Pittsburgh officer just 90 minutes before the shooting occurred and had worked in three other police departments since 2011.

“Officers who are moved around that often are troubled officers,” Merritt said.

Merritt said Rose had no “significant” criminal history, and that he has heard from people in the community who are distraught over the shooting.

Others in the area recalled their relationship with Rose.

It was a scorching summer day when Rose arrived at the Pittsburgh Gymnastics Club to interview for a job in July 2015. Most other teenagers might have taken a cue from the setting and worn athletic clothes.

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But Rose, gym owner Kim Ransom recalled, was different: He wore a three-piece suit in the stifling heat, anxious to leave a mark.

He was an “absolute dream” to work with there, charming parents and kids alike, Ransom told the Post-Gazette.

Rose returned to Fetterman’s store periodically to volunteer and had said he was planning to work there this summer, she said.

On Thursday afternoon, other volunteers gathered at the store to share stories about Rose, she said, and to recall his broad smile.

“He was a true joy to work with,” she said.

Rose was embedded in Fetterman’s life outside the store, where he called her “Miss G,” emailed her occasionally about work and played with her 9-year old son. Rose even appeared in a campaign video for Fetterman’s husband, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, when Fetterman ran for lieutenant governor last year.

Gisele Fetterman said she is distraught thinking about Rose in the past tense.

“I’m struggling with the was,” she said. “I want to say he is.”

Wesley Lowery, Eli Rosenberg and Keith McMillan contributed to this report.

Read more:

Police shootings of unarmed black people have not ended. But top-level political conversations about them have.

Perspective: Police are still killing black people. Why isn’t it news anymore?

Fired/Rehired: Police chiefs often forced to put officers fired for misconduct back on the streets