By JUAN A. LOZANO , Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — It was still dark outside when LaPorsha Washington drove her four daughters, including 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes, in the family’s silver car at 6:30 a.m. Sunday to a grocery store on the eastern outskirts of Houston.
Each daughter was in her assigned seat in the family car, with Jazmine sitting behind her mother in the back seat.
Fifteen-year-old Alxis Dilbert, Washington’s oldest daughter, was sitting in the front passenger seat when she noticed a red truck pull up beside their vehicle. She described the driver as a blue-eyed white man wearing a black hoodie and looking sickly.
The family, who is black, didn’t give the truck a second thought until it changed lanes, moving around from behind to the driver’s side of Washington’s vehicle and the driver opened fired. Washington was hit by gunfire in her arm. Jazmine was shot in the head and died at the scene.
“I didn’t see anything but shattered glass and bullets coming toward my car,” Washington said.
Authorities have yet to identify or find the man suspected of killing Jazmine, whose death her family and community activists believe was racially motivated. They say the attack is similar to an incident in the area in 2017 in which a suspect described as white shot into a vehicle carrying at least two black people. That shooting remains unsolved.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, whose agency is leading the investigation into Jazmine’s death, said he is “not tone deaf” to concerns Washington and her children were shot at because of their race. But investigators have not determined a motive and their focus remains on catching the killer, he said.
A composite sketch of the driver and surveillance video of his truck was released on Thursday and a reward for information leading to his arrest has climbed to $100,000. Jazmine’s death has prompted an outpouring of support for her family from across the country, including celebrities and sports stars. A community rally to show support for Jazmine’s family was planned for Saturday. Her funeral is set for Tuesday.
“It’s just amazing how … this beautiful angel, 7 years old, just touched so many lives and her light shined very, very bright,” Gonzalez said. “It’s upon us as a community, as leaders, as just our humanity to find justice for Jazmine.”
The sheriff’s office tweeted on Friday that investigators have received “many potential leads” since releasing the sketch but declined to comment on any specific tips.
At a news conference on Thursday with Alxis, a tearful and emotional Washington recalled how she and her family were going to Joe V’s Smart Shop near their home when their car came to rest at a stoplight on a feeder road next to a tollway. Nearby was a Walmart and strip malls with restaurants, banks, a Starbucks and other businesses.
Washington said her 13-year-old daughter, Ebonee Dilbert, who sat behind Alxis in the back seat, then noticed the truck go behind their car, change lanes and pull next to them on the driver’s side.
Authorities have declined to say what type of weapon was used when the driver opened fire.
Washington said she can’t remember how many shots were fired but “he emptied out his gun. I know that for a fact.”
Washington said no words were ever exchanged between her and the driver and she doesn’t believe this was a case of mistaken identity.
“We didn’t do anything wrong to this man,” Washington said. “This is something that I believe was a hate crime.”
Washington described Jazmine, whose nickname was “Jaz,” as a lovable person who enjoyed music, dressing up and trying to sit on her mother’s lap while driving.
Jazmine, who was in second grade, had said she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up and was already practicing as she kept her 6-year-old sister in line.
“She was always bossing people around … She liked to eat a lot,” Alxis said of Jazmine.
Washington and Jazmine’s father, Chris Cevilla, said they remain hopeful that their daughter’s killer will be found.
“I won’t stop. I won’t quit. I don’t care how long it takes,” Cevilla said.