A Chicago police officer arriving at the scene of a domestic disturbance fatally shot two people on Saturday, including a 55-year-old mother of five who authorities said was “accidentally struck and tragically killed.”
In a statement released Saturday offering scant detail, Chicago police said they “were confronted by a combative subject” that resulted in “the discharging of the officer’s weapon.”
But the families of Bettie Jones, who had just hosted relatives for Christmas, and Quintonio LeGrier, 19, a college student home for holiday break, say police violently overreacted to a controllable situation, according to CBS-affiliate WBBM-TV.
Both individuals were pronounced dead at hospitals within an hour of being shot, according to the Associated Press.
“He wasn’t just a thug on the street, he was an honor student in college and high school,” LeGrier’s mother, Janet Cooksey, told WBBM-TV. “Seven bullets were put in my son. Seven.”
“Eight shots were fired,” she added tearfully. “One hit an innocent lady who was just opening her door. Something is wrong with this picture.”
The deaths arrive while the Chicago Police Department is being scrutinized by the Justice Department, which has opened a wide-ranging investigation into whether the department’s practices contribute to civil rights violations. The investigation was launched after the release of video last month showing white officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan Macdonald, who was black. The footage led to murder charges for Van Dyke and the resignation of the city’s police chief.
The medical examiner’s office confirmed that Jones and LeGrier were black, but police have not revealed the race of the officer, according to the AP. The statement released by the department said the officers involved will be placed on administrative duties for 30 days while “training and fitness for duty requirements can be conducted.”
“The 55 year old female victim was accidentally struck and tragically killed,” the statement noted. “The department extends its deepest condolences to the victim’s family and friends.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office released a statement after the shooting as well.
“Anytime an officer uses force the public deserves answers, and regardless of the circumstances, we all grieve anytime there is a loss of life in our city,” the statement read.
“All evidence will be shared with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for additional review in the days ahead.”
Relatives told the Chicago Tribune that the incident began when LeGrier — who had suffered from severe mood swings in recent months — grew agitated and picked up an aluminum bat while he was in his father’s upstairs apartment. Hoping to defuse the situation, LeGrier’s father called police.
“His father was scared because that’s not his character,” Cooksey, 49, who was not present at the shooting, told the paper. She told WBBM-TV that she thought her son would be transported to a hospital for a mental health evaluation, a standard practice at police departments across the country.
Before authorities arrived, LeGrier’s father told Jones, his downstairs neighbor, to stay away from his son and keep an eye out for police, family members told the Tribune.
As officers arrived, a relative told the paper, LeGrier came to the front door downstairs. Relatives said they believe Jones was behind the 19-year-old and by the entrance to her apartment when the shooting began.
ABC-affiliate WLS reported that it’s unclear whether Jones had finished opening the door when one or more officers shot at LeGrier, “who was charging down the stairs still carrying the bat.”
Latisha Jones, 19, told the paper that she was awakened by gunfire and saw her mother on the floor of her apartment with a bullet wound in her neck.
“She wasn’t saying anything,” Jones said. “I had to keep checking for a pulse.”
Antonio LeGrier told the AP that moments earlier he heard Jones yell, “Whoa, Whoa Whoa!” Gunshots followed, he said, and by the time he arrived on the first floor, he found his son and Jones lying in the foyer.
“I identified myself as the father and I held my hands out,” he said.
The Police Department did not say where the victims were standing when they were shot, but blood could be seen in the small vestibule and just inside Jones’ apartment. At least one bullet appeared to have traveled through Jones’ apartment, hitting at least two walls.
“He didn’t have a gun,” Cooksey told the paper. “He had a bat. One or two times would have brought him down.”
She added: “You call the police, you try to get help and you lose a loved one. What are they trained for? Just to kill? I thought that we were supposed to get service and protection. I mean, my son was an honor student. He’s here for Christmas break, and now I’ve lost him.”
LeGrier told the AP that his son was a student at Northern Illinois University, where he was majoring in electrical engineering technology. He described him as a whiz kid, the AP reported. He was a high school graduate of a prep school on the South Side of Chicago.
At a news conference on Sunday, LeGrier’s mother told reporters that her son was not violent or troubled.
“He ran a marathon last year for a charity,” Cooksey said.
Her son was shot in the buttocks, proving that he was turning away from officers when he was shot, she said.
“What happened to tasers?” she asked.
At the same press conference, friends and relatives of Jones said they were equally furious that police didn’t use a taser to deescalate the situation.
“Why you got to shoot first and ask questions later?” Jaqueline Walker, a childhood friend of Jones, asked before breaking into tears. “Don’t start shooting people — innocent people.”
A GoFundMe page has been created to raise money for Jones’s funeral.
Jones’s brother told the Tribune that his sister — a mother of four daughters and one son — lived with her boyfriend. Family members said she loved going to church and loved her family just as much. Only a day earlier, he told the paper, a large group of relatives had gathered in the apartment to celebrate Christmas with food and card games.
Little did they know, this year’s festivities were more than a holiday — they were also a final goodbye.
“She had an excellent Christmas. Family was over,” Melvin Jones said. “And then to wake up to this.”