The Harris County Sheriff’s Department outside Houston, Texas, has arrested two suspects in the murder of seven-year-old Jazmine Barnes, who was fatally shot on December 30th in what was initially believed to be a random “racially motivated” attack. Eric Black Jr., 20, was taken into custody on Saturday, January 5th, and charged with capital murder, while Larry Woodruffe, 24, was arrested the following day; according to authorities, Woodruffe is believed to be the shooter, but charges are still pending. Black and Woodruffe are both black. During the nearly week-long manhunt, police described the suspect as a bearded white man in his forties, driving a red pickup truck, and released a sketch based on witness accounts.
“It does not appear that (the shooting) was related to race,” Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said, according to CNN.
On December 30th at approximately 6:50am, Jazmine’s mother, LaPorsha Washington, was driving her four daughters to the store when gunshots pierced the vehicle, striking her in the arm and Jazmine in the head. Witnesses told authorities that a red pickup truck had pulled up alongside Washington at a stop light and fired into her car, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said. Washington was hospitalized, while Jazmine died at the scene.
“I didn’t even see him. I didn’t see the truck. I didn’t see anything but shattered glass and bullets coming towards my car,” Washington later said at a news conference. “He emptied out his gun. I know that for a fact.”
Washington’s oldest daughter, Alexis, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, told CNN last week that she made eye contact with the driver of the truck.
“His eyes were blue. His face was kind of thin and pale,” she said.
Several other bystanders also described seeing a red truck driven by a white male driving away from the scene. In the days after the murder, authorities released a composite sketch of the suspect and a photo of a red pickup taken from surveillance footage.
The investigation turned in a new direction late last week, after activist Shaun King — who offered a $100,000 reward for information — received a tip that Black and another African-American man were responsible for the shooting. By Saturday morning, Black was already in custody, having been pulled over and arrested for marijuana possession; according to court documents, during questioning by investigators, Black allegedly confessed to being the getaway driver, and said the 9mm handgun used in the murder was still at his home. Police later recovered the weapon, and according to court documents, determined that it was consistent with shell casings recovered from the crime scene. Black did not name the alleged shooter, and it’s not clear how authorities determined Woodruffe’s alleged involvement, but according to CNN, Woodruffe is currently in jail on drug possession charges.
According to the Sheriff’s Department, the shooting of Jazmine was likely the result of “mistaken identity.”
“Their target was likely someone else, but this family was fired upon,” Gonzalez said on Saturday. “We believe now that that red truck and the driver is most likely just a witness, either by sight or sound, to what actually transpired … perhaps they can shed some light on what happened that morning.”
King also attempted to clear up the confusion in an Instagram post on Sunday.
“[Jazmine’s] mother and the girls never saw the shooter,” King wrote. “They heard the shots… and then looked up and saw this red truck with a white man driving it peeling off. THREE separate eyewitnesses … also saw this truck speeding off. … They also assumed the white man driving it fired the shots. … In the meantime, the two men that actually shot and killed Jazmine drove off in a completely different direction through the neighborhood. They each later claimed that they thought they were shooting someone from a rival gang. Yes, they did it. No, they weren’t framed. It just took several days to solve it.”
According to attorney S. Lee Merritt, who is representing the family of Jazmine Barnes, said they are “surprised and relieved by the arrest.”
“They wanted the right person to be convicted ,” Merritt said. “Not a white person.”