Cornelius George, right, pleaded for the violence to end: “Go to school … Be somebody.” With him were his sister Shannon George and brother Lewis George.
Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune
Said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman: “Anybody who says 'I don’t want to come forward, I don’t want to get involved, I’ll take care of it myself’ — that isn’t an answer.” Behind him was Mayor R.T. Rybak.
Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune
Culture of retribution stoked Nizzel George's death
- Article by: ABBY SIMONS
- Star Tribune
- July 2, 2012 - 11:08 PM
Stephon Terrell Shannon told detectives he knew nothing about the spray of gunfire at a north Minneapolis home last week that killed 5-year-old Nizzel George, according to murder charges filed against him on Monday.
Then he berated them for not solving his friend's killing 10 months earlier. The officers told him they needed witnesses to come forward.
If Shannon knew who killed his friend, he replied, he'd take care of it himself and would not call police.
But a witness did call after last week's shooting, helping identify 17-year-old Shannon as one of the gunmen and telling the police that he had admitted firing the shots in angry retaliation. He said he was "sorry about the baby."
The first-degree murder charges against Shannon and an unnamed 15-year-old detail retaliatory street justice that police and community leaders say led to Nizzel's death last Tuesday, when the shooters allegedly fired at the house as payback for an earlier shooting.
It's a culture of silence and retribution that police and others decried as they urged more witnesses to come forward.
"This is an innocent 5-year-old who was mowed down while sleeping on his grandma's couch,'' said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. "Anybody who says, 'I don't want to come forward, I don't want to get involved, I'll take care of it myself' -- that isn't an answer."
Shannon, who because of his age was automatically charged as an adult with aiding and abetting first-degree murder, will make his first court appearance Tuesday. The 15-year-old, whose name has not been released because he is still charged as a juvenile, could be certified to stand trial as an adult later. Freeman said the younger teen faces the same charges as Shannon.
An atmosphere of threats
According to charges, the 15-year-old, referred to by a witness as "Funny Mo," set off the sequence of events that led to Nizzel's death by pointing a gun at two other teens the day before at a North Side gas station. Hours later, at about midnight on June 26, five shots were fired at 4501 Camden Av. N., where Shannon said he lives with Jamica Holden, the mother of his friend Juwon "Skitz" Osborne, 16, who was shot and killed last September.
Holden told police there had been ongoing problems with violence and threats since her son's death, which remains unsolved. His friends had been calling themselves the "Skitz Squad" and spending a lot of time at the house, she told police.
By 8:30 a.m., 10 shots were fired at 4515 Bryant Av. N. where Nizzel was staying with his grandmother. At least three other children were sleeping on the couch with him at the time. Witnesses reported seeing two people pull out handguns in front of the house and fire. "Funny Mo" was described as one of the shooters.
According to a witness, Shannon later admitted to the shooting, and said he "made his peace with God and was sorry about the baby." He allegedly said he was at the Camden address at the time of the first shooting, and was angry about it. He believed people associated with 4515 Bryant were responsible, so he went there and fired into the house. When the witness urged Shannon to turn himself in, he refused, saying the police "didn't have nothin' on him." When questioned by police later, Shannon denied killing the boy.
In an interview the day after the shooting, the 15-year-old said he was at the Camden Avenue house just before the midnight shooting. When pressed, he admitted that he had "upped the gun" at the gas station at some teens who he heard talking about how he was from the "other side."
Both teenagers were arrested Thursday as they left a Brooklyn Center hotel in Jamica Holden's vehicle. When police searched the hotel room, Holden's boyfriend, Antonio Ferguson, told the others there not to talk with police.
Pastor Jerry McAfee of New Salem Baptist Church in north Minneapolis said that, with the charges, it's just as important to hold the shooters who fired at the house on Camden accountable.
"To me they're just as culpable," he said, adding that he believes investigators know who they are. "Most people know that if you tag one house, somebody's eventually going to come back and tag yours. That's the point."
'Get an education and learn'
Nizzel's father, Cornelius George, 25, stood flanked by family members who urged people with information to come forward, and for others like the "little teenagers" who allegedly shot and killed his son to think before they react.
"Put the weapons down. Go to school. Get an education and learn. Become somebody," he said.
George said he last saw his son three days before the shooting. The boy told him, "Dad, I'll be back in seven days."
It was the boy's favorite number. They hugged and said goodbye.
Nizzel's funeral will be held at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at Shiloh Temple International Ministries, 1201 W. Broadway in Minneapolis -- seven days after his death.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921
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