HOUSTON — A black man was arrested and charged with murder in the killing of a 7-year-old black girl in a drive-by shooting in Houston that her family believed was racially motivated but that prosecutors said Sunday was a case of mistaken identity.
Jazmine Barnes’ family had described the gunman in the Dec. 30 slaying as a white man driving a red pickup, stirring fears among community activists that race played a role in the attack.
But during a court hearing early Sunday, prosecutors said 20-year-old Eric Black Jr., who is black, told investigators he was driving the vehicle from which a passenger opened fire. He said he was in a dark-colored SUV he had rented.
Authorities did not explain the discrepancies or provide a more detailed motive for the shooting.
A spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.
Chris Sevilla, Jazmine’s father, said in a brief telephone interview that he was feeling “a bit of relief right now” after the arrest.
Prosecutors said a confidential source had contacted the sheriff by email and told him the killers had “shot the car by mistake,” thinking the vehicle Jazmine was in was someone else’s that they had seen earlier in the night. Prosecutors did not say why the killers opened fire.
Black, who was arrested Saturday night during a traffic stop, was charged with capital murder and jailed without bail. Court records did not list an attorney for him.
It was not immediately known whether the suspected gunman has been arrested.
Prosecutors said the 9 mm handgun believed used in the shooting had been recovered from Black’s home.
During Sunday’s hearing, prosecutors said Jazmine’s mother, LaPorsha Washington, had tried to drive to a hospital after the shooting, but one of her front tires had been shot out.
Jazmine’s family and activists had said the shooting was similar to an unsolved incident in the area in 2017 in which a gunman described as white shot into a vehicle carrying at least two black people.
Jazmine’s killing prompted an outpouring of support for her family from celebrities and ordinary people across the country. On Saturday, hundreds gathered at a rally near where the shooting happened, holding balloons, stuffed animals and signs that read, “Justice for Jazmine.” A $100,000 reward was offered for information leading to an arrest.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the support Jazmine’s family received provided law enforcement “with a sense of urgency and made Jazmine’s loved ones know they weren’t alone in their time of grief.”
“We share their deep sense of loss and anger,” Turner said.