UPDATED 8:42 a.m. 01/06/2019 and 10:00 a.m. 01/09/19
The senseless shooting of a seven-year-old African American girl in Harris County last Sunday has made national headlines. Here’s everything we know about the shooting of Jazmine Barnes.
Shortly before 7 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, December 30, LaPorsha Washington was on her way to get coffee near Beltway 8 in Harris County, east of Houston, with her four children in tow. A gunman drove by and opened fire on her car, then sped away, according to the Houston Chronicle. Washington, 30, was shot in the arm, and she fled down Beltway 8 before making a U-turn to pull over and call 911. One of Washington’s daughters noticed that Jazmine was not breathing, and when Washington turned to the back seat she saw Jazmine had been shot in the head, according to KTRK. Paramedics arrived but Jazmine died before they reached the hospital.
“As I turned around and looked back at the street, I heard shots start firing and they came through my window, broke my glass, and hit me in my arm,” Washington told KPRC from her hospital bed as she recovered from her injuries. “They sped off in front of us and the truck slowed down and continued to fire as he was in front of us. It was not fair. It was not fair. He intentionally killed my child for no reason. He didn’t even know her, he didn’t know who she was.”
Jazmine was a second grader at Monahan Elementary School in Sheldon ISD, and wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. “Jazmine loved music, Jazmine loved dancing,” Washington told KTRK. Barnes’s funeral was held on Tuesday.
What do we know about the shooters?
Witnesses initially told police that the gunman was a white man in his thirties or forties driving a red pickup truck, and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office released a sketch January 3 depicting a white man with high cheekbones:
This is the man witnesses say murdered 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes on 12/30 as her family drove on the E. Sam Houston Pkwy frontage road at Wallisville Road. Thin white man, 30's-40's, in a red pickup. Call 713-221-6000 or @CrimeStopHOU at 713-222-TIPS #JusticeForJazmine #hounews pic.twitter.com/URR3w2Wxbm— HCSOTexas (@HCSOTexas) January 3, 2019
Earlier in the week, the Sheriff’s Office had released surveillance footage of a vehicle that they believed had been driven by the gunman during the attack. They described the vehicle as a four-door red truck.
Help us identify the person who killed 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes on Sunday. If you live near Wallisville Rd/ E. Sam Houston Pkwy look over your surveillance video. We’re looking for a 4-door red truck. If you have info call 713-221-6000 or @CrimeStopHOU at 713-222-TIPS. #HouNews pic.twitter.com/nyMudgs60x— HCSOTexas (@HCSOTexas) December 31, 2018
It was initially unclear why the gunman opened fire on Washington’s car. “There was nothing to indicate that the family did anything wrong in any way,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez told CNN. “They were simply just driving along the service road when this happened to them.” Washington told CNN that she did nothing to provoke the shooter.
A week later, acting on a tip, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office arrested Eric Black Jr. and Larry Woodruffe in connection with the shooting. Woodruffe, 24, allegedly shot at Washington’s car from a vehicle driven by Black Jr., 20. Both men face capital murder charges.
#HCSO Homicide investigators have filed a capital murder charge against Larry D. Woodruffe, 24, for the shooting death of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes — full release: https://t.co/JcEMTA7SLo #HouNews pic.twitter.com/QDsxRD0oP4— HCSOTexas (@HCSOTexas) January 8, 2019
Prosecutors said the two men thought Washington’s car actually belonged to a group of people they had fought with at a nightclub a few hours before the shooting, according to the Houston Chronicle. KHOU reported that Black, Jr. told investigators that he and Woodruffe did not realize they had shot at the wrong car until they saw news of Barnes’s death the next day.
Black, Jr. has been held without bail since appearing before a judge on Monday. Woodruffe was taken into custody Saturday after he was arrested during a traffic stop for alleged possession of drugs. According to the Chronicle, he’s a “documented member” of the street gang the Five Deuce Hoover Crips and had prior felony convictions for domestic violence and unlawful possession of a firearm. The Chronicle also reported that Woodruffe is a father of three. He is expected in court this week and will likely be ordered to be held without bail.
Why was the initial suspect described as a white man when both of the alleged shooters ended up being African American?
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez explained that surveillance video does in fact show that a red pickup truck was near the car at the time of the shooting, and that the truck and its driver were probably the last things Washington and her children saw before the flurry of gunfire, according to the Chronicle.
Why was this being viewed as a possible racially motivated attack?
The initial description of the suspect as a white male prompted some to believe Barnes’s death had been a hate crime.
According to CNN, Washington said she felt the shooting may have been motivated by racism, noting that her vehicle did not have tinted windows, and the gunman could see “a black mother with four beautiful children, girls, in this car.”
Prominent Dallas civil rights attorney Lee Merritt is advising Barnes’s family, and he also indicated that the shooting was racially motivated. “That’s why I was brought on,” Merritt told the Washington Post last Wednesday. “We want to emphasize the racial nature of the attack and that hate-crime charges are appropriate.”
In addition to the early description of a suspect, there was underlying context that lended further credibility to the theory that the shooting was racially motivated.
Local activists noted the similarities between the shooting of Barnes and another shooting in the same area a year earlier. In August 2017, 21-year-old A’Vonta Williams was driving near East Beltway 8 to check on his girlfriend after Hurricane Harvey when he was shot by a white man in a Ford F-150 pickup truck, according to the Houston Chronicle. Williams was hit in both legs but survived the shooting. No one has been arrested in connection with the shooting, and Williams and local civil rights activists have been critical of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation of that case. “The police got there and they were just asking: ‘Who got shot and who I was beefing with? What did I do? Who did I rob?”’ Williams told the Chronicle in December 2017. “They just kept asking questions, like, making me feel like I had done something bad.”
The two shootings happened just six miles apart. “If A’Vonta Williams’ shooter had been found, would Jazmine Barnes still be alive?” local activist Dre Muhammad said at a press conference in Harris County last week, according to the Chronicle. “What are the odds that two black families were fired upon by a white male in a pickup truck within a one-year time span on the same block? We’ve got to call it what it is. Black people are being targeted in this country . . . Black people are being targeted in this city. We are thoroughly convinced that the killing of Jazmine Barnes was race related.”
Hate crimes are on the rise nationwide. Reports increased by 17 percent in 2017 compared to 2016, the third straight year they have increased, according to FBI data released in November. The data showed that three out of five of the more than 7,100 hate crimes reported last year were motivated by race and ethnicity.
Early in the investigation, Gonzalez did not rule out the possibility that Jazmine’s shooting was racially motivated. “We’re not going to ignore that issue,” Gonzalez told the Post. “Our focus continues to be on the evidence we have and leads we develop, and then the motive we can enhance and determine once we get those facts.”
How has the community responded?
In addition to drawing attention from local civil rights activists, Jazmine’s killing has garnered national headlines, prompting celebrities to raise awareness of the shooting and help provide financial aid. Civil rights activist and writer Shaun King has actively pressed Twitter users to help identify the shooter, teaming up with Merritt to fundraise for a $100,000 reward. Former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal joined forces with a Houston police officer to cover the costs of Jazmine’s funeral. Houston Texans star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins dedicated Saturday’s upcoming playoff game to Barnes, and will offer his $29,000 playoff check to help pay for funeral costs, according to ESPN.
How can I help?
If you have any tips, call Houston Crime Stoppers at 731-222-TIPS (8477). There’s also a GoFundMe page set up for Barnes’s family. As of Wednesday, more than 2,952 donors had raised a total of $84,217.