COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A police officer responding to a reported armed robbery shot and killed a 13-year-old boy who had pulled from his waistband a BB gun that looked “practically identical” to a police weapon, authorities said Thursday.
Because the officer is White and the boy was Black, the case has brought comparisons with the 2014 fatal shooting in Cleveland of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who had been playing with a pellet gun outside a recreation center. Columbus police are early in their investigation but say the differences in the Wednesday night shooting of Tyree King and the Cleveland case are stark.
“The only thing similar in nature is the age, race and outcome,” Columbus police spokesman Sgt. Rich Weiner said. “The facts are not similar, and that must be reiterated.”
Officers investigating the armed robbery report on Wednesday east of downtown Columbus spotted three males who matched the descriptions of the suspects, authorities said. Two of the males ran away when officers tried to speak with them.
The police chased the pair into a nearby alley and tried to take them into custody. That’s when Tyree pulled out a gun with a laser sight, and one officer fired his weapon, hitting the boy repeatedly, police said.
Tyree died at a children’s hospital. Authorities identified the officer who fired as a nine-year veteran of the force named Bryan Mason.
Police records show Mason in 2012 shot and killed a man who was holding another man at gunpoint. Officers said the armed man had refused orders to drop his weapon.
A message seeking comment was left with the head of the police union representing Mason.
At a news conference Thursday, police Chief Kim Jacobs displayed a photo of what she called a “replica” of the BB gun Tyree 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.”
Mason has been placed on administrative leave while the shooting is investigated, per department protocol, Jacobs said.
An attorney for Tyree’s family called for a fair and independent investigation into the boy’s death. Attorney Sean Walton declined to discuss any previous interaction Tyree had with police, but he emphasized Tyree didn’t have any violent criminal history. He said the family believed Tyree being involved in an armed robbery would be “out of character.”
Tyree played football and was in the young scholars program at school, Walton said. He also 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.
Democratic Mayor Andrew Ginther appeared to choke up as he called for the community to come together to help ensure children remain safe. He 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. “And a 13-year-old is dead in the city of Columbus because of our obsession with guns and violence.”
Neighborhood resident Chris Naderer said he was home at the time and heard someone break fencing in his backyard, then saw an officer chasing two young Black men and heard several gunshots.
“I just think it was bad circumstances that he had a gun,” Naderer said.
The male who had been with Tyree was interviewed and released pending further investigation, police said. They provided no further information about him.
Police said additional suspects were being sought as the shooting and reported robbery remained under investigation.
The police chief said it was too soon to draw comparisons between Tyree’s death and Tamir’s death.
In Tamir’s case, a 911 caller reported someone pointing a gun at people near a recreation center, and a rookie officer shot Tamir almost immediately after his police cruiser stopped nearby. The caller had said the person was likely a juvenile and the weapon was probably fake, but the call taker never passed that information to the dispatcher of the responding officers.
A grand jury concluded the officer and his partner reasonably believed it was a real gun and their lives were in danger, prosecutors said. The officers were cleared of wrongdoing.
Associated Press reporters Kantele Franko in Columbus and Mark Gillispie in Cleveland contributed to this report.