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Justin King: Missouri town roiled by fatal shooting of Black man by white neighbour who claimed self-defence

Neighbours and family members say Justin King was killed ‘in cold blood’ by a man he regarded as a friend on 3 November in Bourbon, Missouri

Megan Sheets
New York
Monday 06 December 2021 16:20 GMT
Justin King, 28, was shot and killed by a neighbour in Bourbon, Missouri, on 3 November 2021
Justin King, 28, was shot and killed by a neighbour in Bourbon, Missouri, on 3 November 2021 (KMOV4)

A Black man’s death at the hands of his white neighbour has become the subject of fierce debate in a small Missouri community.

Justin King, 28, was shot and killed on 3 November at the trailer park where he lived in Bourbon, a town of 1,600 people about 70 miles outside of St Louis.

The shooter, a 42-year-old white man, was taken into custody but released without charge after the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department determined he acted in self-defence when King broke into his home.

However, family members and neighbours refuted the narrative adopted by police in interviews with NBC News, saying King was shot “in cold blood” by a man he regarded as a friend.

“The only person that says it’s a home invasion is the guy that shot my son,” King’s father, John King, told the outlet. “And all the neighbours are saying, ‘No, you shot him in cold blood outside.’”

The father noted that his son was shirtless in pyjama pants when he was shot in broad daylight, asking: “So how was he a threat?”

Justin King, 28, was shot and killed by a neighbour in Bourbon, Missouri, on 3 November 2021 (KMOV4)

King and the shooter lived across from each other, according to the manager of the trailer park, Lesa Stiller.

Ms Stiller described watching King walk over to the neighbour’s trailer before gunshots rang out at around 11.45am.

She said she didn’t see King enter the trailer itself, but watched him “stagger backwards real slow with his hands up in the air” near the steps of the residence after the shots were fired.

“I heard him say: ‘I thought we were friends.’ And [the neighbour] said: ‘We were!’ and he just slowly walked back," Ms Stiller recalled.

The Crawford County Sheriff’s Department determined the neighbour shot King because he “feared for his life” in an altercation that unfolded when King “forced entry” into the home.

Various pieces of evidence “preliminarily corroborate” the neighbour’s account, the department said in a news release.

Police contend the shooter was protected by Missouri’s “castle doctrine”, which allows homeowners to use deadly force against intruders.

But King’s family insist that doctrine does not apply because King had not entered the home and was shot outside it.

His father, John King, called the shooting an act of “racially motivated hate”.

Neighbours described King, the father of a nine-year-old daughter, as a caring, upbeat man who was always happy to lend a helping hand to others.

Three neighbours who spoke to NBC described the shooter as having a history of violence, making racist comments and showing off his gun collection. They said he had also expressed desire to kill someone.

Court records showed the shooter was arrested in June 2017 on charges of second-degree assault and unlawful use of a weapon while intoxicated. The status of those charges is unclear, NBC reported.

For the neighbours, the most perplexing part of the shooting was their understanding that King and the shooter were friends.

Neighbour Trina Willson said: "He knew Justin. You would think that if your friend was coming into your house, you’d be like: ‘Hey, man, what are you doing?’

“Why do you automatically resort to pulling out a gun and shooting him? How can this even possibly go down as self-defence?”

Crawford County Sheriff Darin Layman told NBC that all the information his department has released on the case so far is “accurate in relation to our investigation and findings”.

“Our office has not uncovered any evidence to support the idea that this was a racially motivated incident,” Mr Layman said.

“We have contacted the FBI regarding this investigation and requested their assistance in processing a portion of the evidence collected.”

King’s family, meanwhile, has accused law enforcement of failing to conduct a thorough investigation. His mother, Eva Bruns, said she feels “betrayed” by police.

“They’re not being fair. I don’t know if it’s because of colour or because of the way the killer is,” Ms Bruns told NBC.

“In the investigation, nothing has been done. Twenty-four hours later and he’s out of jail. I don’t know what kind of justice that is.”

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