Florida police shot and killed a teenager over the weekend, who appeared to be holding a military-style assault rifle that turned out to be a non-lethal air-powered pellet gun.
Officers in Tarpon Springs, Florida, were summoned on Saturday night after receiving reports of a white male pointing what appeared to be an AK-47-style rifle at passing cars filled with people on a busy stretch of road.
After warning the individual, later identified as 17-year-old Alexander King, to drop his weapon, two officers fired 12 shots at the boy, who died later that night in an area hospital.
“The two officers, in the fears of theirs, and the lives of others, fired multiple rounds each at the subject,” Tarpon Springs police chief Jeffrey Young said at a news conference on Monday.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our officers and with their families as they to deal with the aftermath of this event.”
Police body camera and bystander video footage captured the event, and King could reportedly be heard telling police, “Shoot me.” It’s unclear if he ever fired a pellet at officers, but he did cock the weapon as officers arrived.
“He raised a weapon and that’s when the police that were confronting him, kitty corner, they had ballistic shields it looked like they were about 6 police,” Derek Geisser, a witness, told Fox 13.
“They opened fire on him, but it was after they asked him to drop his weapon and he didn’t.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office, and Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office forensic unit will all investigate the shooting, alongside an internal investigation from the Tarpon Springs police.
The officers who fired the shots are on paid leave.
King, a junior at Tarpon Springs High School, had 22 previous encounters with law enforcement, according to police, including arrests for battery of a school employee and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
Social media posts from the teen show him posing with friends, spending time outside, and discussion his excitement around purchasing a new air rifle.
“The Pinellas County Schools community is saddened by the passing of one of our students at Tarpon Springs High School," schools spokesperson Isabel Mascareñas said in a statement following the shooting.
“The district Students Services team will provide grief counselors for students and staff needing assistance. Our thoughts and prayers are with the student’s family and friends.”
In 2014, police in Ohio shot Tamir Rice, 12, who had been holding a toy pistol while playing in parking, one of a spate of police killings that helped catalyse the Black Lives Matter movement.