Hennepin County authorities have upped the charges against a man accused in the slaying of Birdell Beeks, a 58-year-old grandmother who drove through a gang shooting in Minneapolis last summer, officials announced on Thursday.

Joshua Ezeka, 21, was first charged with second-degree murder, but a grand jury earlier this month handed down an indictment on first-degree murder and premeditated second-degree murder charges, according to authorities. Ezeka remained in jail Thursday in lieu of $2.5 million bail. He is next expected to appear in court April 18.

Beeks' death last May became a rallying cry for anti-gun violence advocates and brought attention to a violent gang war that had erupted in parts of the city.

She and her 16-year-old granddaughter were driving in the area of Penn and 21st Avenues N. on May 26 when they got caught in the crossfire as Ezeka fired at a fleeing gang rival, according to prosecutors. The granddaughter wasn't hurt, but Beeks was struck several times and died later at a nearby hospital.

In a statement, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Ezeka's recklessness "resulted in the death of a pillar of the neighborhood."

"Young Mr. Ezeka was informed by a friend that an opposing gang member was in his neighborhood. He had to grab his gun, run outside and down the street before he could start shooting. That is premeditation," Freeman said Thursday. "We can't bring her back, but if we prove the case in court, Ezeka will go away for life and never again kill another innocent person."

Ezeka's court-appointed attorney wasn't immediately available for comment Thursday.

Libor Jany • 612-673-4064

Twitter: @StribJany