The Hennepin County Attorney's office charged two teenagers Monday with first-degree murder in the shooting death of 5-year-old Nizzel George. The little boy died last week after he was struck by a single bullet fired from outside his grandmother's home in north Minneapolis.
Police say Stephon Terrell Shannon, 17, acted out of retaliation for a recent shooting.
According to the criminal complaint, the violence that eventually took the life of Nizzel George was sparked by a shooting that took place the night before, about two blocks away.
On the night of June 25, someone fired gunshots at the home where Stephon Shannon lived on the 4500 block of Camden Avenue North. Police say a witness told them Shannon was angry and believed someone at the home where Nizzel George slept was responsible. The next morning, Shannon fired at the house.
According to the complaint, eight bullets struck the home, and one of them penetrated the wall and struck and killed George. Three other children were sleeping on the couch with George, but they were not hurt.
At a news conference Monday afternoon, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman lamented that too many young people are using firearms to settle their scores.
"If I sound a little annoyed, you're damn right I am," said Freeman. "This is an innocent 5-year-old kid who was mowed down, sleeping on his grandma's couch."
Freeman said the 15-year-old co-defendant will not be named unless he is certified to stand trial as an adult.
According to the complaint, Shannon told police he knew who shot at his house but wouldn't tell police who did it. Shannon also denied that he was the one who sought revenge for the shooting.
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Freeman praised the cooperation of witnesses who came forward so far. But he said investigators want more information, just to make sure they have the strongest case possible.
Law enforcement officials say too often, people with information about violent crimes don't come forward -- because they're afraid or they don't want to be known as a "snitch."
City Council member Don Samuels said people who don't speak up are endangering their community.
"If you know something and you're holding back, I want you to know you are contributing to the deliquency of a minor. And you're contributing to the future homicide of the children of this community," said Samuels. "You cannot walk away. This is our city. These are our children. This is our problem and the solution is ours."
Assistant Police Chief Janee Harteau credited the hard work of police investigators for the arrests and charges in the George shooting.
But she said she's concerned about the unsolved killing six months ago of 3-year-old Terrell Mayes Jr., who was also killed by bullets fired from outside his home.
"We still need the public's help with Terrell Mayes. We need the public's help for Nizzel George," said Harteau. "Don't assume we know all the answers. Don't assume we have all the information. We still need you to come forward."
The charges filed Monday don't appear to have brought any comfort to members of Nizzel George's family. The boy's father, Cornelius George, said he was hurt to hear that two young people may have been involved in his son's death.
He said he didn't know the young men, but he had a message for any young person involved in the kind of violence that took his son's life.
"Put the weapons down. Go to school. Get an education. Learn," said George. "Become somebody, because kids with guns and gangs only got two choices -- they're dead, or you're going to be in jail for the rest of your life."
The penalty for a first-degree murder conviction is a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.