The great-aunt of Jazmine Barnes, the 7-year-old Houston girl fatally shot in a drive-by shooting last month, is apologizing on the family’s behalf after their witness accounts led to the wrong man being accused for the heinous crime — a crime they believed was racially motivated.
“We apologize. We apologize,” Mary Buffin told Click2Houston. “The thing that’s bothering me is that someone was falsely accused.”
Barnes was shot and killed Dec. 30 when a gunman opened fire on her mother’s vehicle as they left a Walmart early that morning. Barnes’ mother, LaPorsha Washington, described the shooter as a bearded white man in his 40s, sporting a hooded sweat shirt. Washington, who was injured in the shooting, told police the assailant fled the scene in a red pickup.
A police sketch and photos of the alleged shooter were widely circulated as local authorities worked to track down Barnes’ killer. The little girl’s grieving mother said publicly that she believed the shooting was a hate crime.
An investigation into the incident proved otherwise after two Black men were arrested and charged in connection to the 7-year-old’s death. Eric Black Jr., 20, and a second suspect, Larry Woodruffe, were both charged with capital murder. Authorities said Barnes and her family weren’t the intended targets and that the shooting was a case of mistaken identity.
Buffin said reports about her niece’s death quickly went viral, and from there, local activists swarmed the family for more details about the accused white gunman. She said the family urged them to “hold off on” the hate crime claims after the shooting, but said activists were sure the crime was driven by race. It wasn’t until after the story blew up that Barnes’ mother bought into the hate crime narrative.
“When we went to the hospital, that wasn’t crossing her mind,” Buffin told the station.
Tips from several witnesses would implicate innocent man Robert Cantrell, who police said was mistaken for a suspect after witnesses spotted his red pickup truck fleeing the scene of the crime. They said they now believe Cantrell sped off in an attempt to escape the gunfire.
“We tried to challenge [the hate crime claims],” Buffin added. “But our family was in distress.”
Even after real suspects were in custody, Cantrell’s niece said the family was bombarded with hateful and threatening messages online.
“‘I hear someone is going to rape, torture and murder the women and children in your family,’” Hailey Cantrell read from one of the comments left on her Facebook page.
“I just want everyone to like, back off,” she later told Houston’s ABC 13. “The truth is out. It had nothing to do with us, nothing to do with my uncle at all.”
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