St. Louis was the scene of angry protests once again Wednesday night after an off-duty police officer shot and killed an 18-year-old African-American teenager who the officer said fired three shots at him — though local residents say the teen was only carrying a sandwich.
It was a painfully familiar scene in the aftermath of the shooting, as angry crowds took to the streets to express their outrage.
The shooting victim was identified as Vonderrick Myers Jr., according to Teyonna Myers, 23, who told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he was her cousin.
“He was unarmed,” she told the paper. “He had a sandwich in his hand, and they thought it was a gun. It’s like Michael Brown all over again.”
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson quickly tried to get in front of the story, holding a news conference to give the officer’s version of events. The officer was identified only as a 32-year-old, six-year police veteran. After the Michael Brown shooting in August, officer Darren Wilson wasn’t identified for nearly a week.
The shooting occurred in the Shaw neighborhood of St. Louis, in the southern section of the city near the Missouri Botanical Gardens. The officer was working off-duty for a private security firm and he saw three Black males who he said started running away from him. Dotson said the officer, who was still in uniform, started chasing them.
Dotson said one of the teens approached the officer “in an aggressive manner” and refused to stop or surrender.
But St. Louis Police Lt. Col. Alfred Adkins told reporters that the officer was able to follow one of the teens before he lost him and then found him again as he jumped out of some bushes across the street.
In both versions, the two then got into an altercation. Dotson said the officer pulled off the teen’s gray-hooded sweater and the young man ran away, grabbing at his waist. Dotson said the officer felt that the teenager was carrying a firearm, but did not open fire because “he wanted to be certain it was a gun.”
But he said the teen turned and “pointed the gun at the officer and fired at least three rounds at the officer.”
Dotson said the teen tried to continue firing, but his gun jammed. In response, the officer, who had not been hit, fired at least 17 rounds at the teen, killing him.
Dotson said a 9mm Ruger handgun that allegedly belonged to the teen was recovered at the scene. He also said a forensics search located three bullets that had been fired at the officer.
“An investigation will decide if the officer’s behavior was appropriate,” the police chief said.
Dotson also praised his department for the response to the angry crowd of at least 200 protesters, saying they showed a “tremendous amount of restraint” despite the damage to police cars.
“We will do everything we can to support everybody’s right to protest and allow their voices to be heard as long as it doesn’t infringe on other people’s rights,” Dotson said.
According to a tweet from St. Louis Alderman Antonio French of the 21st Ward, who had been closely involved in the protests after Brown’s killing, the victim’s mother fainted when she arrived at the scene of the shooting.
“An ambulance came to attend to her,” French tweeted. “There is nothing like a mother’s pain at the loss of a child.”
The protesters smashed the windows of several police cars, according to published reports, as many shouted “Hands up, don’t shoot,” referring to the fatal shooting in August of Brown about 16 miles away. They also shouted “We’re young, we’re strong, we’re marching all night long!” and “Fight back, fight back!”
The demonstrators claimed that Myers had been shot 16 times.