White Man Shot at Black Teen Who Asked for Directions

‘It definitely was a hate crime,’ the teen’s mom said.

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

A retired, white Detroit firefighter was charged with assault with intent to murder Friday after shooting at a black 14-year-old who knocked on his door to ask for directions to school, authorities said.

Brennan Walker, of Rochester Hills, Michigan, woke up late Thursday morning and missed his bus to school, so he attempted to make the nearly 4-mile trek on foot but got lost.

The high school freshman, who was hoping to find a “short cut,” got directions from one homeowner but soon lost his way again, WDIV 4 Local reported. That’s when he approached a home on South Christian Hill Drive.

“I got to the house, and I knocked on the lady’s door. Then she started yelling at me and she was like, ‘Why are you trying to break into my house?’ I was trying to explain to her that I was trying to get directions to Rochester High,” Walker told Fox2. “And she kept yelling at me. Then the guy came downstairs, and he grabbed the gun, I saw it and started to run. And that’s when I heard the gunshot.”

Police records said Jeffrey Ziegler, 53, chased Walker into the yard and fired a 12-gauge shotgun at the fleeing teen. The Michigan homeowner missed his first shot because the gun’s safety lock was still in place, authorities said. He popped off another round after disengaging the safety, according to police. Walker, who wasn’t injured, said he cried as he tried to hide from the gun-wielding man.

At one point, Ziegler and his wife called 911 claiming Walker was trying to break into their home, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said.

Ziegler, a 53-year-old retired firefighter, was arraigned Friday and charged with assault with intent to murder and felony firearms violations. His bond was set at $50,000.

In 2006, he was sentenced to one-year probation after being convicted of two counts of aiming without malice and felony firearms violations.

“There’s a lot more to this story than what is being told and I believe that will all come out in court,” Zeigler insisted at his arraignment, according to WDIV. “I was in bed yesterday morning when my wife started screaming and crying…”

Walker’s mother, Lisa Wright, was shocked by news that a man had allegedly shot at her son—and said it was “definitely” a hate crime. She said her son didn’t have his phone because she’d taken it away from him.

“I want to see this pushed to the fullest extent,” Wright said.

Lori Grein, a community-relations representative for Rochester Community Schools, said the district is “deeply disturbed” by the incident.

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“The Rochester Community School District cannot comment on ongoing investigations; however, we can tell you that we are deeply disturbed and horrified by the events that were described in the news involving a Rochester Community Schools student who was asking for directions,” Grein wrote in an email to The Daily Beast. “Our Critical Incident Team is working to support the student and the student’s family and is also available to provide support for those children who may be upset or have questions about this event.”

In a statement via Twitter, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard denounced the incident.

“I feel so bad for this mom and young man and am incredibly angry at this disturbing event in our county, state and country,” Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard wrote on Twitter. “We will seek all applicable charges. There is no world where this is acceptable.”

The Detroit branch of the NAACP said “We must be very clear” in a statement sent to The Daily Beast Friday:

“Whether or not it was Brennan Walker, age 14, knocking on the door in the daylight in Rochester asking for help, he was still shot at for his efforts. In case you forgot, Renisha McBride, age 19, was shot in the face at midnight and killed in Dearborn Heights as she asked for help for her efforts. Until our society has a heart and a head transformation, we will continue to see not our God given humanity but our contagious racial insanity. Face it America, we have a problem. It’s called racism. Until we own it, we cannot cure it.”