As the FBI joined a manhunt for a suspect in an unprovoked shooting in Houston that left a 7-year-old girl dead, community activists on Wednesday said the incident is strikingly similar to the unsolved shooting of an African-American man in 2017.
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Law enforcement officers are combing Houston for a suspect police described as a white man in a pickup truck, who opened fire on a car Sunday, killing Jazmine Barnes and wounding her mother, LaPorsha Washington.
During a news conference Wednesday, community activists and religious leaders noted that the shooting occurred in the same northeast Houston area as one following Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 that left 22-year-old A'Vonta Williams wounded.
The Harris County Sheriff's Office said Williams, who like Jazmine is African-American, was injured in an unprovoked shooting committed by a white man in a pickup truck.
No arrest was ever made in Williams' shooting.
"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?" Deric Muhammad, a community activist, said during a news conference attended by Williams' mother, Kisshima Williams.
"The sheriff's department was supposed to find who shot A'Vonta Williams and the question that we're asking here today is if A'Vonta Williams' shooter had been found, would Jazmine Barnes still be alive?" Muhammad said. "We've got to call it what it is. Black people are being targeted in this country. Black people are being targeted in this county. Black people are being targeted in this city. We are thoroughly convinced that the killing of Jazmine Barnes was race related."
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that detectives are re-examining Williams' shooting. Williams was shot on Aug. 30, 2017, about six miles from where Jazmine was shot, Gonzalez said.
"We're looking at that once again to make sure we're not missing anything," Gonzalez said, adding that detectives were investigating tips coming in on Jazmine's slaying, including some from possible eyewitnesses.
"The top priority to me and my agency is to bring justice for Jazmine," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said it was too early in the investigation to describe Jazmine's shooting as a hate crime. He declined to speculate on a possible motive.
The FBI is assisting in the investigation into Jazmine's slaying, Gonzalez said.
Jazmine was killed when a gunman pulled up next to her mother's car on Sunday morning and began shooting, Harris County sheriff's officials said.
On Monday, the sheriff's department released a photo of the suspect's red pickup truck -- among the 1,300 similar vehicles registered in the area. The suspect's truck had no license plate, officials said.
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
Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt and activist-journalist Shaun King increased a reward for information leading to the arrest of the gunman from $35,000 to $50,000.
In an interview with ABC affiliate station KTRK-TV in Houston, Jazmine's mother, who was shot in the arm, recalled the horrific incident.
"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 said. "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."
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is analyzing shell casings found at the scene, officials said.
Jazmine's two older sisters, who were riding in the car when Jazmine and their mother were shot, were expected to meet with detectives in hopes of developing a sketch of the suspect to release to the public.