Karon Blake’s killing fuels social media sleuthing, and outrage

In the days after a man fatally shot 13-year-old Karon Blake, claiming he had seen the youth breaking into vehicles on Quincy Street in Northeast Washington, internet sleuths went to work trying to learn a key detail withheld by police: the identity of the shooter.

An advisory neighborhood commissioner from Ward 7, Anthony Lorenzo Green, suggested on Twitter the search for the shooter’s name could easily home in on a suspect, as clues slowly emerged from DC officials. It was a man, African American, police said, who worked for the city — though not in public safety. He was initially described by authorities as a “homeowner,” though police said Friday that was an inartful way describing the shooter as a resident and was not meant to confer actual ownership of the home.

“It’s right there if you’re really looking,” Green tweeted, noting people could cross-reference homeowners on the block where the shooting occurred against a city employee database.

The ANC representative from Brookland, Colleen Costello, pushed back, warning Green’s posts about the predawn Jan. 7 shooting in her neighborhood her “could result in someone getting hurt.”

“Stop jeopardizing my constituents’ safety,” she wrote.

Police have released limited information so far about Blake’s killing, which sparked anger across the city and prompted demands from activists supporting Karon’s family for police to publicly identify the shooter and charge him with a crime. At least two members of the DC Council have also questioned the lack of cartoons.

Police have said the man told them he heard noises shortly before 4 am, left the Quincy Street residence with his legally registered handgun and saw someone it appeared was breaking into vehicles. Two people ran, and the man told police he confronted Karon and shot him. The youth died from several bullet wounds.

Police have said there is no indication the youth was armed. Police said the man called 911 after the shooting and was administering CPR when officers arrived. He surrendered his gun, police said, and has cooperated.

The online searches forced DC Police Chief Robert J. Contee III to hold a news conference and angrily denounce misinformation he said was “swirling in the community and on social media.” He described the guesswork on the case as reckless and dangerous and said users were posting photos of people who were not involved in the incident.

“I’m asking our DC family to uphold our DC values,” the chief implored residents on television. “Let police do the police job.”

But the pace of the police probe has frustrated many.

At a community meeting earlier this week, residents yelled in frustration as authorities urged patience and calm as they investigate and present their findings to a grand jury. More than two dozen demonstrators gathered on Quincy Street Friday night, taping up signs with Karon’s picture and demands for justice. They later marched through the neighborhood chanting, “Justice for Karon.”

The same day as the incident, Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, a Black-led mutual aid and community defense organization, asked on Twitter: “Will the homeowner be identified and held accountable for his violent actions?”

Police do not typically publicly name people they are investigating before criminal charges are filed. If the shooter is indicted, his name will become public.

Two days later, a coalition of community members and activists, demanded officials release the name and posted it on Instagram they were researching property records for Quincy Street.

By the next day, activists and some community members said they believed they had identified the shooter. The DC Safety Squad, the coalition researching to find the shooter’s identity, shifted its tone, directing a message to “Karon Blake’s killer” rather than to police, demanding he remove himself from the community and “take responsibility” for his actions.

Nee Nee Taylor, the DC Safety Squad founder and Harriet’s Wildest Dreams co-leader, said she and others would not make the name public. They had wanted to know who he is, Taylor said, so they could ask him to leave.

Taylor said she is now focused on supporting Karon’s family. She said that she includes seeing the man indicted, and she understands this means police cannot make public much of what they have learned — at least for now.

“Right now, there’s no reason for the community, for the Safety Squad, or Harriet’s Wildest Dreams to protest or march, because the identity of this person is known,” Taylor said.

City lawmakers, too, have pressed for answers. On Friday, DC Council Member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), the new chair of the public safety committee that has oversight responsibilities over DC police, announced she had requested and received access to body-camera footage from officers who responded to the shooting . Her spokeswoman, Zoe Ades, said the lawmaker is prohibited by law from discussing the video with the public and has not shared her observations with Karon’s family.

Karon’s friends want the name to be released and for “fair justice,” said Jawanna Hardy, a longtime activist and the founder of Guns Down Friday, a nonprofit group that is supporting the friends’ efforts to hold a protest Friday night on Quincy Street.

They’re “lost right now,” Hardy said. The friends, she said, “just want justice, whatever that looks like… It’s his word for him against Karon’s. We really don’t know what happened.”

Some fear that if the man’s name is released, he might be in danger. DC Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5) said he has “deep concerns about neighbors taking justice into their own hands.”

Costello, the Brookland ANC representative, accused Green, her counterpart in Ward 7, of inflaming an already volatile situation by spreading speculative information.

“I haven’t talked to MPD and don’t know who did it, and neither do you, Anthony,” she tweeted. She warned about “witch hunts premised on potentially faulty MPD talking points,” referencing police having initially described the shooter as a homeowner. In another tweet, she said, “Since the facts are unclear, it’s dangerous to encourage speculation. We don’t need vigilantism causing more trauma.”

Costello declined to speak with a reporter, saying her full-time job prevented her from doing so.

Green, in turn, accused Costello of “doing everything possible to protect that adult because of something your cop friends told you in private. Stop protecting Karon Blake’s killer, commissioner.”

In an interview, Green said speculation on the shooter was getting “messy” with false accusations being shared online. But he said that it seems to have forced city officials to release “tidbits of information” in an attempt to counter the false narrative. At the news conference, Contee revealed the shooter’s race and said that he was not in law enforcement.

Green asserted that he had shared information that DC officials had already publicly revealed. He said the use of the word “homeowner” by police and their description of Karon as someone tampering with a vehicle made it “feel like the mayor and the police department has made the judgment for us.”

By withholding information, Green said, “they painted their own narrative of what they believe happened,” and that only intensified demands for the shooter’s identity. He said he would not personally reveal his name, but he will continue to pressure public officials to do so.

Contee, speaking at a news conference Tuesday, said “we recognize the community’s desire to get details of this incident, but we also must acknowledge that the ongoing nature of the investigation prevents us from sharing specifics that could jeopardize the integrity of this case.”

He added: “We have to make sure that as a community we get this right.”

Clarence Williams contributed to this report.

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