FERGUSON, Mo. – A few thousand people crammed a suburban St. Louis street Sunday night at a vigil for an unarmed black man shot and killed by a police officer, while afterward several stores were looted and car windows were smashed.
The candlelight gathering was for 18-year-old Michael Brown, who police said was shot multiple times Saturday after a scuffle involving the officer and two people in Ferguson, a predominantly black suburb of the city
At the vigil, people placed candles, flowers and a teddy bear at the exact location where Brown was killed. One group of young men broke off to spray paint “R.I.P. Michael” on the street.
Afterward, an Associated Press reporter saw some people looting a convenience store. Several other stores along a main road near the shooting scene were broken into and looted, including a check-cashing store, a boutique and a small grocery store.
People were seen carrying armloads of goods such as bags of food and toilet paper. Police kept watch on the crowd but did not appear to be intervening.
Other witnesses reported seeing people vandalize police cars and kick in windows. Witnesses said the police refrained from retaliating.
There were no immediate reports of injuries. St. Louis county officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Hundreds of local residents had protested the shooting earlier in the day, and a civil rights leader expressed outrage at the killing.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the shooting occurred after an officer encountered two people – one of whom was Brown – on the street near an apartment complex in Ferguson.
Belmar said one of the men pushed the officer back into his squad car and a struggle began. Belmar said at least one shot was fired from the officer’s gun inside the police car. Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said authorities were still sorting out what happened inside the police car. It was not clear if Brown was the man who struggled with the officer.
The struggle spilled out into the street, where Brown was shot multiple times. Belmar said the exact number of shots wasn’t known, but “it was more than just a couple.” He also said all shell casings found at the scene matched the officer’s gun. Police are still investigating why the officer shot Brown, who police have confirmed was unarmed.
Jackson said the second person has not been arrested or charged. Authorities aren’t sure if that person was unarmed, Jackson said.
Brown had graduated from high school and was about to enter a local college, said his mother, Lesley McSpadden.
McSpadden said she doesn’t understand why police didn’t subdue her son with a club or Taser instead of shooting him, and she said the officer involved should be fired and prosecuted.
“I would like to see him go to jail with the death penalty,” she said Sunday at the site of the shooting, fighting back tears.
Michael Brown Sr. had said at the vigil that he appreciated the outpouring of support.
“It’s the start of a movement for some better things to happen,” Brown said. “It’s going to start something for St. Louis and Missouri. It has to.’
The killing drew criticism from some civil rights leaders, who referred to the 2012 racially charged shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a Florida neighborhood watch organizer who was acquitted of murder charges.
“We’re outraged because yet again a young African-American man has been killed by law enforcement,” said John Gaskin, who serves on both the St. Louis County and national boards of directors for the NAACP.
The Rev. Al Sharpton called the shooting death “very disturbing” and the New York-based civil rights leader said he planned to go to Ferguson to meet with the family.
A few hundred protesters had gathered outside Ferguson Police headquarters earlier Sunday. At one point, many of them marched into an adjacent police building, some chanting “Don’t shoot me” while holding their hands in the air. Officers stood at the top of a staircase, but didn’t use force; the crowd eventually left.
Some protesters were angry that Brown’s body remained on the street for hours after the killing. Belmar said officers “had to practice our due diligence and that’s why it took as long as it did.”
St. Louis County Police Department is in charge of the investigation. County Executive Charlie Dooley said he will request an FBI investigation. The U.S. Justice Department said Attorney General Eric Holder had instructed attorneys in the civil rights division to monitor developments.
The race of the officer involved in the shooting has not been disclosed. He has been with the Ferguson Police Department for six years, Belmar said. He has been placed on paid administrative leave, which is a common after police shootings.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., and Jim Suhr in St. Louis contributed to this report.