A mother was driving four of her daughters to a convenience store for juice. It was early Sunday morning in Houston, on the second-to-last day of the year. A gunman pulled up alongside the car and opened fire. He fatally wounded 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes, injured the girl’s mother, LaPorsha Washington, and sent glass raining down on the other children in the car.
Authorities have described the suspect as a bearded white man in his 40s.
They have released a photo of the red pickup truck they believe he was driving.
And they said a sketch of the suspect, made with assistance from Jazmine’s sisters, should be released on Thursday.
The horrific killing has been denounced by Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and gained traction after being the focus of writer and activist Shaun King and civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt, who say they’ve raised $100,000 in a private fundraising effort for any information leading to the suspect’s arrest.
At a news conference Wednesday, Gonzalez said that his office was poring through the tips that had flooded into his office after the killing but said that the sheriff’s office did not have any definitive idea of who the shooter was or why he would have targeted the family.
Merritt, who is working with Jazmine’s family, said they think the shooting was racially motivated.
“That’s why I was brought on,” he said in a phone interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday.
Activists in Houston have pressed the sheriff’s office for answers on the case, and have also publicly questioned whether it was racially motivated. A rally is planned for Saturday.
“We’re not going to ignore that issue,” Gonzalez said. “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.”
Merritt and King have been soliciting tips from the public, which they have been forwarding to the police. Merritt acknowledged that many of the tips they had received were not likely to pan out, but said he had heard from an eyewitness whom he believed to be credible and who gave him some details about the truck.
Merritt said Washington and two of her daughters who were injured by broken glass had been taken to the hospital after the shooting. Washington was shot in the arm, officials said.
Washington described the harrowing shooting to KTRK, Houston’s ABC TV affiliate.
“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. They sped off in front of us and the truck slowed down and continued to fire as he was in front of us,” she said.
She said one of her other daughters had been the first to see that Jazmine had been wounded.
“She said, ‘Momma, Jazmine’s not moving. She’s not talking.’ I turned around and my 7-year-old was shot in the head,” Washington said. “My baby comes and asks me, ‘Where’s my sister? Is she coming back?’ She’s only 6 years old.”
Merritt said frustration about the case has been building.
“We believe [the police] are out there diligently searching for information,” Merritt said. “As the days go on, it’s becoming more exacerbating. But that’s not a direct criticism of law enforcement, it’s just where we are in the case. We’re not at a happy place in the case.”
Another fundraising effort is afoot to help Jazmine’s family pay for her funeral and other expenses associated with her death. Set up by her father, Chris Cevilla, it raised more than $40,000 as of Thursday morning.
Gonzalez called Jazmine a “wonderful young angel with a full life ahead of her.”