HOUSTON — A black man was arrested and charged with murder in the killing of a 7-year-old black girl in a drive-by shooting that authorities said Sunday appeared to be a case of mistaken identity, not a racially motivated attack, as her family feared.
Jazmine Barnes’ family had described the gunman in the Dec. 30 slaying as a white man driving a red pickup and believed race played a role in the shooting.
But acting on a tip received by a civil rights activist, the sheriff’s department zeroed in instead on Eric Black Jr., a 20-year-old black man who admitted he was driving a dark-colored SUV from which a passenger opened fire, authorities said.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said authorities have identified the second suspect, who is also black, but would not say whether the person was in custody.
Gonzalez cautioned that authorities were still investigating, but said: “At this point, it does not appear it was related to race.”
Chris Sevilla, Jazmine’s father, said in a brief telephone interview that he was feeling “a bit of relief right now” after the arrest.
The shooting took place at a stoplight while Jazmine, her mother and three sisters were on their way to the grocery store.
At a court hearing early Sunday, prosecutors said a confidential source had contacted the sheriff by email and told him the killers had “shot the car by mistake,” thinking the vehicle was someone else’s that they had seen earlier that night. Prosecutors did not say why the killers opened fire.
The sheriff said there was, in fact, a red truck at a stoplight just before the shooting, but the driver did not appear to have been involved. Gonzalez said it was dark, the shooting happened quickly, and the truck was probably the last thing seen by Jazmine’s family.
Authorities want to talk to the person in the red pickup to get his account of the crime, Gonzalez said.
Black, who was arrested Saturday afternoon during a traffic stop, was charged with capital murder and jailed without bail. Court records did not list an attorney for him. Prosecutors said the 9 mm handgun believed used in the shooting had been recovered from Black’s home.
During Sunday’s hearing, prosecutors said Jazmine’s mother, LaPorsha Washington, had tried to drive to a hospital after the shooting, but one of her front tires had been shot out.
After the shooting, a composite sketch of a white man in a dark hood was widely circulated.
Jazmine’s family and activists had said the shooting was similar to an unsolved incident in the area in 2017 in which a gunman described as white shot into a vehicle carrying at least two black people.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a black Democrat who represents parts of Houston, said there was nothing irresponsible about the early suggestions it was a hate crime. She said the case had the positive effect of encouraging people to discuss race in the U.S.
The girl’s killing prompted an outpouring of support for her family from celebrities and ordinary people across the country. On Saturday, hundreds gathered at a rally near where the shooting happened, holding balloons, stuffed animals and signs that read, “Justice for Jazmine.”
A $100,000 reward, raised in part by Shaun King, the journalist and activist who received the tip that helped police, was offered for information leading to an arrest.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the support Jazmine’s family received provided law enforcement “with a sense of urgency and made Jazmine’s loved ones know they weren’t alone in their time of grief.”
“We share their deep sense of loss and anger,” Turner said.