COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A black boy. A white Ohio police officer. A pellet gun that looked like a real weapon. And a deadly shooting.
In a killing with unavoidable echoes of the Tamir Rice case out of Cleveland, a Columbus officer responding to a report of a $10 armed robbery shot a 13-year-old boy Wednesday night after the youngster pulled a BB gun from his waistband that looked “practically identical” to the weapon police use, authorities say.
On the morning after Tyre King’s death, Mayor Andrew Ginther appeared to choke up as he called for the community to come together and questioned why an eighth-grader would have a replica of a police firearm.
“There is something wrong in this country, and it is bringing its epidemic to our city streets,” Ginther said Thursday. “And a 13-year-old is dead in the city of Columbus because of our obsession with guns and violence.”
While the case is still under investigation, police and city authorities rejected comparisons to the 2014 killing of 12-year-old Tamir in Cleveland.
“The only thing similar in nature is the age, race and outcome,” police spokesman Sgt. Rich Weiner said. “The facts are not similar, and that must be reiterated.”
Dozens of people attended a Thursday evening vigil near the scene of the shooting. Some carried signs calling for justice for Tyre. Among those participating were several members of Tyre’s youth football team. Their coach described the first-year player as someone with a “smile that could light up the room.”
Officers investigating the robbery report east of downtown Columbus spotted three males who matched the description of the suspects, authorities said. Two of the males ran away when officers tried to speak with them.
The police chased the pair into an alley and tried to take them into custody. Tyre pulled out a gun with a laser sight, and an officer fired, hitting the boy repeatedly, police said. Tyre died at a hospital.
The officer was identified as Bryan Mason, a nine-year veteran of the force. Police records show that in 2012 he shot and killed a man who was holding another person at gunpoint. The Columbus Dispatch said investigators cleared him.
Mason has been placed on leave while Tyre’s shooting is investigated, in keeping with department policy. A call to the head of the police union representing him was not immediately returned.
In a 911 call Wednesday, the robbery victim calmly indicated he didn’t want to make a big deal over $10. He also said he thought the weapon looked like a particular type of Ruger semi-automatic pistol. Sirens were heard moments later as police searched for the suspects. Then an unidentified witness told a dispatcher: “He’s shooting him! Oh, my God!”
At a news conference, Police Chief Kim Jacobs displayed a photo of a BB gun like the one Tyre had.
“Our officers carry a gun that looks practically identical to this weapon,” she said. “As you can see, it looks like a firearm that could kill you.”
An attorney for Tyre’s family, Sean Walton, called for an independent investigation. He also said he was aware of witnesses who didn’t agree with the police version of events. Walton would not discuss any previous dealings Tyre had with police but said the boy had no violent criminal history. He said the family believes Tyre’s involvement in an armed robbery would be “out of character.”
Tyre played several sports, including football, and was in the young scholars program at school, Walton said. He had a slight build and, if anything, was on the small side for his age, the attorney said.
Authorities said it was unclear if the shooting was caught on surveillance or cellphone video. Columbus police don’t use body cameras.
The 19-year-old male who had been with Tyre was questioned and released pending further investigation, police said.
In Tamir’s case, a 911 caller reported someone pointing a gun at people near a recreation center. A rookie officer shot the boy almost immediately after pulling up in his cruiser. The officer and his partner were cleared of wrongdoing.
The 911 caller had said the person with the gun was probably a juvenile and the weapon was probably fake, but that information was never passed on to the officers.
A grand jury concluded they reasonably believed it was a real gun and their lives were in danger, prosecutors said.
Prosecutor Tim McGinty said Tamir – who was big for his age – was pulling the pistol from his waistband when he was shot. He said the boy was trying to either hand it over or show police it wasn’t real, but the officers had no way of knowing that.