A 7-Year-Old Girl Was Shot And Killed While Riding In A Car With Her Family
"This was unprovoked and it was senseless," the local sheriff in Texas said.
A 7-year-old Texas girl was killed this week after a man shot into her family's car in what authorities described as an unprovoked attack, prompting an intense search for her killer.
Family members and the Harris County Sheriff's Office have made multiple appeals to the public for any information that might lead to Jazmine Barnes' killer. On Wednesday, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez once again asked for anyone in the Houston area or beyond to report anything that could help identify the driver or explain why he shot at Barnes and her family.
"Our top priority, for me personally and for our agency, is to bring justice for Jazmine," he said.
Jazmine was in the car around 7 a.m. Sunday with her mother and three sisters. They'd just driven out to buy coffee for a family gathering when a red pickup truck pulled up alongside their vehicle and started shooting.
"This was unprovoked and it was senseless," Gonzalez said.
Jazmine was fatally struck, and her 6-year-old sister was injured by the shattering glass. Their mother, LaPorsha Washington, was shot in the arm.
From her hospital bed, Washington told KHOU there was no reason for her daughter to die.
"I replayed this moment in my head over a million times. Did I cut this man off? Did I make a wrong turn in front of him? Did I stop him from getting out of the Walmart for whatever he was doing? Did I do anything wrong to cause this man to fire shots at my car? And I didn't," she said, crying. "I didn't do anything."
The shooting has drawn national attention, including a promise from writer and activist Shaun King of a $60,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Over the last few days, the sheriff's department has received a variety of tips, Gonzalez said, but authorities still haven't identified any persons of interest or motive. It doesn't appear that the driver, described as a white man with a beard between 30 and 40 years old, knew Barnes and her family.
"It still seems random in terms of their acquaintance," Gonzalez said. "But we’re not ruling anything out."
The lack of answers has led to questions about whether the shooting was racially motivated. Houston activists have questioned whether it was connected to another shooting of a black man by a white man in a truck, which took place last year about six miles away.
The sheriff's department initially said the suspect and vehicle descriptions in the two shootings didn't match, though on Wednesday Gonzalez promised that investigators would take another look to make sure they hadn't missed anything.
"We're not tone-deaf to some of the concerns in our community where this could be potentially race-related," he said.
But, he added, investigators would be following the evidence at hand.
"We don’t want to have tunnel vision and focus on only one particular motive," he said.
On Thursday, investigators released a composite sketch of the suspect, created with the help of Jazmine's sisters.
Attorney Lee Merritt reiterated that the man was a stranger to the family. Given Harris County's history of racism and the national rise in hate crimes, as well as the lack of previous interaction between the gunman and the victims, Merritt said the family is concerned the shooting was motivated by race.
"He had a chance to look into the car, see young girls, observe that family, and without any other explanation, he riddled the car with bullets," Merritt said on Thursday.
Community members have planned a rally on Saturday, calling it "Justice for Jazmine."
Her parents said the family remained in shock over the loss of the joyful, smart second-grader.
"She brought so much joy and happiness to everybody around her," Washington said. "When she walked into a room, Jazmine was going to kiss and hug everybody. Even if she didn't know you, she was showing you love."