Family of Ma'Khia Bryant speaks out after teen is killed by Columbus police

The family of Ma'Khia Bryant, whom police fatally shot while responding to a 911 call, remembered the teen as a "beautiful" and "sweet" girl and questioned why a Columbus, Ohio, officer shot her.

Don Bryant, a cousin of Ma'Khia's mother, said he was tuned into the Derek Chauvin trial when he learned that Ma'Khia, who was 16, had been killed. He immediately called her mother, Paula Bryant.

"It was chaotic. Nobody deserves that," he said Wednesday. "Who could expect something like this to happen in their family?"

Paula Bryant said: "Ma'Khia was a sweet little girl. She didn't deserve what happened to her."

Police were called to a home in Columbus late Tuesday afternoon. Body-camera video shows several people fighting when Officer Nick Reardon arrives. The officer draws his gun as the altercation unfolds, the video shows.

Police said the video shows a girl, later identified as Ma'Khia, trying to stab a person on the ground, as well as another person who is leaning against a car. Reardon fires his weapon four times, and Ma'Khia falls to the ground, the video shows.

She was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Image: Ma'Khia Bryant (Courtesy Paula Bryant)
Image: Ma'Khia Bryant (Courtesy Paula Bryant)

Hazel Bryant, Ma'Khia's aunt, said her niece was a "beautiful, sweet" girl. Don Bryant remembered her as someone who "had a lot of love for her family."

"She was just a teenage girl, and this was an unnecessary loss of life," he said. "It's a tragedy."

The Bryant family said in a statement Thursday that they were "saddened by the tragic and unnecessary death of Ma'Khia."

"Ma'Khia was a good student, a good person, and did not deserve what happened to her. We want to remind everyone Ma'Khia was only a 16 year old teenage girl. We are deeply disturbed by the disproportionate and unjustified use of force in this situation," the family said. "And while we remain encouraged by public support and all of the prayers shared with us; at the end of the day, we know nothing will bring back our beloved Ma'Khia. We respectfully request justice for Ma'Khia Bryant."

Ma'Khia was in the foster care system, Franklin County Children Services said Tuesday night. Don Bryant declined to comment about why or how long, saying Ma'Khia's mother was "working very hard to get everything together."

"They loved each other, and Paula was working very hard to get her daughter back," he said.

Ma'Khia attended Independence High School. A spokeswoman for Columbus City Schools said by email Thursday that Ma'Khia enrolled in the district in February. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the district is using a hybrid learning model.

Hazel Bryant (Gaelen Morse / Reuters)
Hazel Bryant (Gaelen Morse / Reuters)

Her business education teacher, Austin Owens, knew Ma'Khia for only a few months but said she had big dreams for herself.

"She was going to run the world, and she wasn't going to be ostentatious about it," Owens told NBC affiliate WCMH of Columbus. "She was going to do it."

On days when Ma'Khia was in school for in-person learning, she would sit in the front, Owens said. She wrote in a five-year-plan assignment that she wanted to go to college and open her own eyelash salon.

"The language she used in her five-year plan was somebody who desperately wanted better for her life," he told WCMH. "And she wanted to make her parents proud. She wanted to be a productive citizen. I'm not paraphrasing — these are her exact words."

Looking at Ma'Khia's social media, you would see a typical teenage girl. Her TikTok page included short hair tutorial videos, and one showed her doing a popular dance. The account appears to have been taken down some time after her death.

Her Facebook profile shows her blowing a kiss at the camera.

Paula Bryant said her daughter loved to style hair and to dance.

"She was very funny," she said. "She had a beautiful personality. She was so sweet. So sweet."

Zion Davis, a friend of Ma'Khia's, said her actions the day of the shooting do not define her as a person.

"I want them to know she was smart, she was beautiful, she was amazing," Davis said at a vigil Wednesday night, WCMH reported.

In the police body-camera video, Reardon, the officer, is heard saying: "She had a knife. She just went at her."

The department said police picked up what appeared to be a knife near Ma'Khia's body.

It is not clear what led to the fight that prompted the officer to draw his weapon. In addition to the body-camera video, the police department released two 911 calls about the melee. It was not clear who made the calls or whether Ma'Khia was a caller.

Ma'Khia's mother and aunt said she was defending herself.

"Those were grown, adult women. It looked like that was a child. That was not no child. Those were women attacking my niece, and she was defending herself," Hazel Bryant said. "I'm angry right now."

Paula Bryant said: "All I'm going to say is that she was defending herself. And she was a young girl. She was 16. She should not have had to do that."

A police spokesman could not be reached for comment Thursday. Interim Police Chief Michael Woods had said previously that department policy allows officers to shoot if it is believed that someone's life is in danger.

Keith Ferrell, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, urged people to let the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation handle the case.

"We can see what we think has unfolded, but there is more to look at," he said. "There will be an independent investigation done that will get those answers. But we can speak on what we know now that's been released by the city of Columbus. We can certainly see that lives are at stake."

He asked, "What would you want that officer to do in that split-second moment that they had a chance to stop harm to others?"

Don Bryant questioned why police did not use de-escalation tactics.

"I'm seriously asking the Columbus Police Department: What's going on?" he said. "I'm a supporter of our police, but what's going on here? What's going on that we have to be so trigger-happy these days?"

He added: "And here's what I don't want ... is this whole Blue Lives versus Black Lives matter issue. Listen here, there's been a loss of life, bottom line, and you have a grieving mother who is just heartbroken."