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Sheriff: Top priority is to bring justice

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said authorities are working through a steady stream of tips as they seek to track down the person who shot and killed 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes.

Posted: Jan 3, 2019 3:11 PM
Updated: Jan 3, 2019 3:41 PM

Grappling with the trauma of seeing their sister get killed, the siblings of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes may be key to finding the elusive killer.

Texas police are hoping the girls' descriptions of the suspect will produce a sketch of the man who opened fire on the family's car, killing Jazmine for no apparent reason.

A sketch could be released Thursday, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.

In the meantime, the public has just vague descriptions of what to look for: a white, bearded man in his 40s who was driving a red, extended-cab pickup truck.

"We want to make sure that we get the right person as quickly as possible," Gonzalez said.

No one except the gunman knows why he shot into the car driven by Jazmine's mother around 7 a.m. Sunday in eastern Harris County.

But out of this tragedy came solidarity in grief.

A $100,000 reward is now available for information leading to the arrest of the killer, social-justice activist Shaun King announced.

And more than 1,500 donors have contributed to a GoFundMe account for Jazmine's funeral expenses and family, as the girl's mother recovers from a gunshot wound and some of her three sisters recover from injuries caused by shattered glass in the attack.

A community rally and funeral

Jazmine will be memorialized Tuesday during the "Justice for Jazmine Barnes Community Rally."

The event will honor "all murdered victims in Houston/Harris County," organizers said.

Services for Jazmine will begin at 10 a.m. (11 a.m. ET) Tuesday with a viewing at Green House International Church, followed by her funeral at noon. Afterward, mourners will release purple balloons in her memory.

A morning coffee run ends in tragedy

Jazmine was still in her pajamas Sunday morning when she and her mom, LaPorsha Washington, went on a pre-dawn coffee run to a convenience store.

It was about 7 a.m. The family woke up early because Washington's mother was visiting. They were already looking forward to preparing Sunday dinner.

But as the family drove near a Walmart, a man in a red or maroon pickup truck pulled up next to their car and started firing, the sheriff's office said.

The gunfire shattered the mother's driver's side window, Washington told CNN affiliate KTRK. She said the truck's driver then sped up to get in front of the family and continued shooting.

"I didn't provoke him in any kind of way," the mother said.

Washington said she suspects the attack may have been racially motivated. She said she didn't have tinted windows, and the gunman could see "a black mother with four beautiful children, girls, in this car."

The sheriff said the family didn't appear to do anything to incite the truck's driver.

"There was nothing to indicate that the family did anything wrong in any way," Gonzalez said. "They were simply just driving along the service road when this happened to them."

The sheriff's department is asking anyone who has surveillance video near Wallisville Road and E. Sam Houston Parkway to check their footage for possible clues.

The community is horrified

Even for officers accustomed to horrific crimes, the tragedy of Jazmine's death is impacting them personally.

"Help us find this monster before he murders another innocent child," tweeted Joe Gamaldi, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union. "Prayers for Jazmines family, no parent should have to bury a child."

Attorney S. Lee Merritt, who is advising Jazmine's family, said the grief is compounded by the unknown.

"The inability to capture or even identify this killer is really weighing heavily on that family," he said.

Jazmine's father, Christopher Cevilla, thanked the countless supporters who are trying to help. He also had a message for anyone who might know about the attack:

"I just want anybody, whoever, out there that knows anything about the murder of my daughter, to just please step up as if it was your own," Cevilla told reporters. "Just put yourself in my shoes, in my family's shoes."

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Patchy dense fog is also across the area this morning. Sunshine and mild temperatures will take over this afternoon with highs in the mid 60s. Saturday will start off dry and sunny with temperatures warming back into the mid 60s. Late Saturday into Sunday shower and thunderstorm chances return. A few thunderstorms could be on the strong to severe side. Several fronts will move through the area next week giving us roller coaster temperatures. Next week looks to start off dry but rain chances will return by mid week.
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