The three people who were killed in a police chase in Minneapolis have been identified as young teenagers.
Cortez Antonio Williams Jr., 13, of Minneapolis; Jamontae Welch, 15, of Minneapolis; and Demetrius Devell Dobbins Jr., 16, of Brooklyn Park died early Monday morning at the scene of a single-vehicle crash, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office says.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating the teenagers' deaths, as is a common procedure when officers are involved in a death.
According to a Minneapolis Police Department news release on Monday, the three teens were in a vehicle that matched the description of one that was carjacked on Sunday. Police spotted the vehicle near Dowling and Logan avenues at 1:44 a.m. Monday and tried to pull the vehicle over, but the driver fled at "a high rate of speed," eventually getting "substantially ahead" of police.
The vehicle then lost control and rolled near Emerson Avenue North and 18th Avenue North, police said.
Minneapolis police have been on alert in recent months due to a recent spike in carjackings, robberies and other violent crimes in the city, but they haven't said much about the carjacking in this incident, only that it was a "carjacking with force" that happened Sunday morning.
KARE 11 spoke to a woman who says her 72-year-old aunt's vehicle was the one that was carjacked. She said the teenagers punched her aunt and knocked her to the ground before taking her purse and her car.
A community mourns
The community is mourning the three young teenagers, gathering for vigils at the crash site in north Minneapolis on Monday and Tuesday.
WCCO says the community is also seeking answers on how to stop incidents like this from happening in the future. People from the city's violence interrupters, a group that is dedicated to interrupting crime before it happens, have been at the vigil and will continue to be there to make sure it stays a safe place and to connect with people in hopes of preventing future crimes like this.
Meanwhile, Minneapolis North High School Principal Mauri Friestleban has addressed the crash in her Facebook Live morning announcements on both Monday and Tuesday this week, saying she was at the scene of the crash for about an hour Monday morning to be with people and heard mothers "shrieking in horror."
Some of the teens were connected to Minneapolis Public Schools, she said, but they didn't go to North High School.
"We take collective ownership for our children here in north Minneapolis, so we are grieving today as a community ... you can feel it in the atmosphere," Friestleban said in Tuesday's video, later adding: "I also feel our children are slipping away from us."
She attributed this to a combination of things that could include kids not being physically in school (Minneapolis Public Schools started the year with all distance learning and hasn't made moves to start in-person or hybrid learning) and the atmosphere in the community and with police.
"This idea of not having school continues to play out in really weird and bizarre ways," she said in Monday's video, adding that choices young people in the community are making are "life-altering and life-changing choices"
On Tuesday, she added:
"Kids make stupid mistakes. And in different parts of the city, and the metro area, and the country, that mistake may not be life or death, that's not how it works for us," she said. "This system was not created for us. This culture and this atmosphere was not created for us to live and thrive. Any little mistake that we make can oftentimes end in life and death. We have no room for error compared to other children."
She took time in Monday's video to remind students that their lives are precious, they have value and they have a future.
"I know that this time probably feels hopeless, but I'm going to need you to hold on to some kind of hope," Friestleban said. "And I'm going to need you to know that we're going to find a light at the end of the tunnel here."
The teens' deaths have raised concerns about when police should pursue a suspect in a police chase.
Last year, following an increase in the number of pursuits in the city that ended in injury or death, the Minneapolis Police Department said it would limit police chases to those involving violent felonies of dangerous crimes. The policy requires an officer to stop pursuing a vehicle if it poses an unreasonable risk to the officers, public or passengers who may be unwilling participants.
There were nearly 500 police chases in Minnesota between 2016-2019 – 11% of which involved a felony-level offense, the Star Tribune found in an analysis of statewide data. Nearly half the pursuits started after a driver committed a traffic violation and one-third involved a stolen vehicle.
Of the nearly 500 police chases, 28% ended in a crash, while 37% of pursuits that involved the theft of a vehicle ended in a crash, according to the paper's analysis of the data. Meanwhile, deaths in these pursuits are "statistically rare" and injuries happen less than 10% of the time.
In the past few months, there have been several incidents involving police who were pursuing suspects, resulting in injuries and death. Among them:
Last month, a Crystal police officer crashed into another vehicle while pursuing fleeing suspects, sending the officer and the driver of the other vehicle to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
And in Dakota County in August, deputies pursued a fleeing vehicle, which then crashed, ejecting the driver and passenger. The driver was killed.
Note: Some details provided in this story are based on the police's latest version of events, and may be subject to change.