dnt 12-yr-old with fake gun killed by police_00002006.jpg
12-year-old killed by cops over air gun
01:55 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: Police spokesman says it's not clear if officers knew weapon was an air gun

The boy had been pointing it at people at a park, according to 911 call

He didn't threaten officers, but did reach for the weapon in his waistband, police say

"This is not a black and white issue. This is a right and wrong issue," family lawyer says

CNN  — 

A Cleveland police officer responding to a call about a person with a gun fatally wounded a 12-year-old boy brandishing what turned out to be an air gun that looked very much like a real firearm, police said early Sunday.

The shooting Saturday afternoon came as the nation nervously awaited a grand jury decision on whether to charge the police officer who killed African-American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August.

The attorney for the family of the Cleveland youngster, who also was black, downplayed any possible racial connotations to the shooting.

“This is not a black and white issue. This is a right and wrong issue,” attorney Tim Kucharski said.

The incident began Saturday when police were summoned to a city recreation center by a 911 caller who said someone – possibly a juvenile – was pointing “a pistol” at people.

“There’s a guy in there with a pistol, you know, it’s probably fake, but he’s like pointing it at everybody,” the caller said.

“He’s sitting on a swing right now, but he’s pulling it in and out of his pants and pointing it at people,” the caller said. “He’s probably a juvenile, you know?”

When the two officers arrived, the boy did not point the air gun at them or otherwise threaten them, Tomba told reporters Sunday.

But he did reach for the air gun, Tomba said.

“The officers ordered him to stop and to show his hands, and he went into his waistband and pulled out the weapon,” he said.

Tomba showed reporters the air gun the boy was said to be reaching for – a large, black BB- or pellet-type replica gun resembling a semiautomatic pistol. An orange tip indicating the gun was not a real firearm had been removed, police said.

It wasn’t clear if officers had been told the weapon was not a firearm, Officer Ali Pillow told CNN on Sunday.

Both officers have been placed on leave, police said.

Someone claiming to represent the online activist group Anonymous claimed in a YouTube video to have taken down the city’s website, blaming the shooting on what the speaker said was “an overzealous rookie officer” who resorted too quickly to lethal force.

People who had gathered around the early-morning media scrum with Tomba hurled angry questions at him, accusing police of unnecessary violence.

“It’s a toy gun and a 12-year-old,” a woman in the crowd yelled as reporters tried to ask questions, according to video provided by WEWS.

While saying a thorough and open investigation was under way, Tomba defended the officers’ actions in what he called a “very, very tragic situation.”

“They were doing their job,” he said.

Police shootings of African-Americans, particularly young men, have been under rising scrutiny in recent months after Brown’s shooting following a brief confrontation in Ferguson.

A grand jury there is expected to soon make a decision whether Officer Darren Wilson should face criminal charges in that incident, which resulted in widespread protests over police violence against African-Americans.