“He took my baby away from me and now he needs to be a man and turn himself in.”
That was LaPorsha Washington’s plea to the as-yet-unidentified man who fatally shot her 7-year-old daughter in a drive-by shooting on Sunday in Houston, Texas—a man police can’t seem to find.
The suspect, now described as a “a white male with no beard” by the 30-year-old mother of four, allegedly pulled up his red four-door pickup truck next to Washington, 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes, and her three sisters, and began to open fire near a Walmart parking lot.
“I just don’t know what we did that prompted this response. Did I cut this man off? Did I make a wrong turn? Did I stop him from getting out of the Walmart, for whatever he was doing?” Washington told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “I didn’t make a wrong turn or get in his lane. I didn’t do none of that. He fired at us for no reason and now my baby is dead.”
Now, five days after the incident, family and authorities struggle to find the killer or a motive behind this unprovoked incident that left Jazmine dead, her mother injured, and three other children in distress.
“One of my daughters is completely traumatized. She can’t eat or sleep and keeps asking when her sister is coming home,” Jazmine’s father, Christopher Cevilla, said on Wednesday. “I just want anybody out there that knows anything the man who murdered my daughter to step up.”
The Harris County Police Department has issued a state-wide manhunt looking for the suspected killer, gaining assistance from celebrities and community activists to understand what exactly happened, and if this has happened before.
“The community is completely shaken by this horrible act of violence and we are very committed and we’re not going to let up. We will find who did this,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez told The Daily Beast.
Here is what we currently know, and what we don’t know, about the early morning shooting that killed Jazmine Barnes:
THEY WERE STILL IN PAJAMAS ON A QUICK COFFEE RUN
Jazmine and her three sisters, ages 6 to 15, were still dressed for bed on Sunday morning when they got into their mother’s car around 7 a.m for a quick coffee run at Joe V’s.
“I took the girls with me to get coffee quickly. We were still in our pajamas and were not planning to be outside for more than a couple of minutes,” Washington said, explaining that her mother, who was visiting for the holidays, woke them up early to make breakfast together and start preparing Sunday dinner.
Washington recalled needing a caffeine boost before starting the long day and decided to make it a fun trip for the kids.
As the family was stopped at a red light near a Walmart parking lot, a man in a red pickup truck pulled up next to the car and started shooting, shattering Washington’s side window.
“When I heard what was going on, I went for my eldest daughter first because she was in the front seat with me. I couldn’t reach my other three babies in the back and just yelled at them to get down,” Washington said.
After firing into their car, an act Washington says “probably only lasted seconds but it felt like hours,” the suspect sped away, leaving the family in the middle of the road.
“One of my daughters realized first that Jaz wasn’t answering and said, ‘Mama, Jazmine’s not moving,’” Washington said.
The 7-year-old, who was unresponsive in the back seat, was shot in the head. Authorities pronounced her dead at the scene.
Washington, who was shot in the arm during the incident, was rushed to Ben Taub Hospital, where she was released Tuesday night, she said. Two teens in the car were unharmed, but the 6-year-old sustained minor injuries.
THE SUSPECT IS STILL ON THE LOOSE
The Harris County Sheriff's Office has asked all residents in the area around Wallisville Road in northeastern Harris County to check their personal surveillance videos to help find clues that may lead to a suspect they are now describing as a “bearded white male, possibly in his 40s.” On Thursday, Washington and her daughters gave a new description of the suspect, now describing him as a "white man with blue eyes, a thin build and no beard."
In a press conference following the incident, Gonzalez released a photo of the red pickup truck they believe the suspect was driving. On Thursday, the sheriff's office released a video of the truck along with a composite sketch of the gunman based on witness accounts—adding that he was a “thin white man” in his “30's-40's.”
The office said they were working “around the clock” to investigate every tip to track down this “ killer to get him off the streets,” Gonzalez told The Daily Beast on Thursday.
So far, Gonzalez admitted, none of the tips, including eyewitness reports of the fatal shooting of Jazmine Barnes, are enough to break the case and that police are scrambling to determine whether the attack was “targeted or random.”
Despite the questions, Gonzalez has maintained the search is “personal” for the department and they are doing everything they can to catch the suspect.
“It’s our understanding that she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up,” he said. “That’s been stripped away. We take that very personally.”
THE FAMILY BELIEVES THE ATTACK WAS RACIALLY MOTIVATED
Though authorities do not know the motive behind the shooting, Washington strongly believes the suspect knew he was shooting at “a black mother and her four girls in the car.”
“I don’t have tinted windows, and that man pulled up slowly next to me before shooting. He knew what he was doing, and he knew who was in the car,” she said.
Gonzalez is not denying the possibility the attack was racially motivated, but said investigators are combing through the tips and do not yet have any definitive idea of who the shooter is or why he decided to shoot into the family’s car two days before the new year.
“It’s our belief that it was totally unprovoked, whatever it was, and we’re leaving no stone unturned. We’re going to leave every motive out there as a possibility," the sheriff told reporters on Monday. “There was nothing to indicate that the family did anything wrong in any way. They were simply just driving along the service road when this happened to them."
Civil-rights attorney Lee Merritt, who is working with Jazmine’s family, concurs with the mother’s belief that the shooting was racially motivated and is working with community activists to make their theory known. “That’s why I was brought on,” he told The Washington Post on Wednesday. “We want to emphasize the racial nature of the attack and that hate-crime charges are appropriate.”
CELEBRITIES AND ACTIVISTS ARE NOW HELPING THE SEARCH
The search for Jazmine Barnes’ killer has gained recognition nationwide from community activities and celebrities including actresses Gabrielle Union, Olivia Wilde, Sophia Bush, and activist Shaun King, who have all acted to spread the word about this mysterious shooting.
Along with Merritt, activist Shaun King has raised more than $100,000 in a private fundraising effort for any information leading to the suspect’s arrest. Along with the monetary support, King is also working with police to vet and speak to possible witnesses of the shooting.
“We will not stop until we find this man and bring him to justice,” King tweeted on Thursday.
Actress and activist Sophia Bush posted on Instagram about Jazmine's death and the search for the suspected killer, citing King’s reward for information.
“My hope, my prayer, my dream for 2019, is that each and every one of us who believes in justice, community, and kindness comes together like never before,” she wrote. “That we double down.”
Houston Texans wide receiver Deandre Hopkins said he will dedicate this Saturday’s playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts to Jazmine Barnes and will give his “playoff check” from this week to help cover funeral costs.
“When I see Jazmine Barnes' face, I see my own daughter,” he tweeted Thursday afternoon. “I'm pledging my playoff check this week to help her family with funeral costs and to support @shaunking @SherriffED_HCSO @SylvesterTurner in bringing this man to justice.”
He continued: “On Saturday, I will be playing in your honor, Jazmine.”
In addition to the fundraising effort to find the killer, Jazmine’s family started a GoFundMe campaign to pay for her funeral and other expenses associated with the 7-year-old’s death. The page, set up by her father, has raised more than $40,000 as of Thursday afternoon.
“I hope and pray for my family to find peace and justice for our loss,” he wrote in the page set up on the day of his youngest daughter’s death. “I ask that family or friends that are able too please help and find it in yall heart to donate to this go fund me to help with any expenses that our family may need during this tragedy. Rest In Heaven Jazmine our beautiful princess we love you and miss you!”
JAZMINE WILL BE LAID TO REST THIS WEEK
As the community reels from the tragedy, they will also come together to show their support for Jazmine’s family.
Justice for Jazmine, a community rally, will be held in the 7-year-old’s honor on January 5 in the Walmart parking lot at noon, according to Gonzalez. Community leaders and activists like Shaun King are expected to speak.
“We should not have to be doing any of this, but here we are,” King tweeted on Thursday.
A private funeral for Jazmine will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 8, followed by a public funeral for the community at Green House International Church, the family told The Daily Beast.
Purple balloons, the 7-year-old’s favorite color, will be released in honor of Jazmine and all Houston murder victims following the service.
“Everyone has been so supportive and my family is so thankful,” Washington said on Thursday. “We just want justice for our little girl.”