On 28 December 2015, a grand jury declined to charge Officer Timothy Loehmann in the November 2014 shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio. A New York Times article titled “Cleveland Officer Will Not Face Charges in Tamir Rice Shooting Death” reported:
The case began when a caller to 911 said a male was pointing a gun at people in a Cleveland park. The caller added that the gun was “probably fake,” and that the person waving it was “probably a juvenile.” But those caveats were not relayed to Officer Loehmann or his partner, Frank Garmback, who was driving the patrol car. Officer Loehmann, who is white, opened fire within seconds of arriving at the park. Officer Garmback was also spared any charges.
Tamir Rice’s death was one of several high-profile, fatal incidents involving police and people of color in 2014 and 2015. Beginning with the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, who was killed by an armed civilian, social media users began locating and spreading photographs they claimed indicated the deceased individuals were not wholly “innocent.”
Shortly after Tamir Rice was killed, the above-reproduced image began circulating on social media. Iterations of the rumor held that it depicted Tamir, who was holding a pellet gun at the time he was shot, posing with two guns. According to the rumor, Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, deleted the photograph from her Facebook account shortly after her son was shot dead. No reason for the purported deletion was provided alongside the claim.
Multiple news articles reported that the incident was initially called in to dispatch as having involved a much older male (“maybe 20.”) Subsequently, folks contested the justification of the shooting based on the fact Ohio is an open carry state. Had Tamir been 20 years old rather than 12, he would have been legally within his rights to openly carry a firearm from the age of 18.
Interest in the purported photograph escalated again following the December 2015 decision not to indict Loehmann in Tamir’s shooting death; the Times article reported that Loehmann and partner Frank Garmback remained on restricted duty pending the completion of an administrative review.
The identity of the depicted young man was not known, but photographs of Tamir bore no resemblance to the unidentified male in the photo:
We contacted lawyers for his family to determine whether the photograph was authentic, despite the lack of visual similarity between Tamir and the youth in the photo. The lawyer with whom we spoke confirmed that the individual depicted was not Tamir Rice.