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Baltimore Police Chief Discusses Shooting Of Boy Carrying Replica Pistol

People march in the Penn North neighborhood of Baltimore on Wednesday, the anniversary of the funeral of Freddie Gray.
Patrick Semansky
People march in the Penn North neighborhood of Baltimore on Wednesday, the anniversary of the funeral of Freddie Gray.

Baltimore police said a police detective shot and injured a boy after mistaking a replica pistol in his hand for a real gun.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis told reporters that two plainclothes detectives were driving in East Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon and saw the boy with "what looked like a firearm." Here's what Davis said happened next:

"They identified themselves as police officers to this young man. The young man took off on foot with the gun in his hand and the foot chase was probably a good 150-plus yards. ... The young man never dropped what appeared to be a firearm and our police officers — one of our two police officers discharged his firearm at the young man, striking him nonfatally. His gunshot wounds are nonfatal; he will survive from his injuries."

Davis said the apparent firearm was actually a "replica semi-automatic pistol." He argued that because it was so realistic, the officers couldn't have known it was not a real firearm.

He added that the boy's mother described it to police as a BB gun but did not clarify whether the replica pistol was capable of firing BBs.

The shooting happened on the anniversary of Freddie Gray's funeral. Gray's death in police custody and the subsequent unrest in Baltimore highlighted long-standing tensions between police and civilians.

A statement from the police said the boy, Colvin, is 13 years old. According to The Baltimore Sun, the boy's mother, Volanda Young, identified him as a 14-year-old.

The police and Young differ on where Colvin was hit; Davis said he was shot in the "lower extremities" and did not specify how many times, while his mother said "her son was shot once in the shoulder and once in the leg," according to the Sun.

Young found her son lying on the street, bleeding, according to the newspaper, which has her account:

"Young said she pleaded with police: 'Is my son alive?'

"She said she was leaving to call the hospital when officers handcuffed her and put her in a police car.

" 'It was humiliating,' she said.

"She said she was taken to a police station and asked questions. At one point, she said, she was put in a cell. She said officers told her she was being belligerent.

"After two hours, she estimated, she was driven to the hospital: 'I begged them to take me.' "

Davis said police interviewed Young. He also defended the way the officers handled the shooting incident: "That's what they're supposed to do. That's what cops do."

As NPR reported when Davis was hired, the city's police chief has said he wants to "change the culture" of the Baltimore Police Department — but "many activists say there are systemic problems ... that go much deeper."

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.