By Kate Powell
Ma’Khia Bryant was only sixteen years old when she was shot and killed by police officer Nicholas Reardon on Tuesday, April 20th. The police came following a 911 call at 4:32 pm. The caller, whose identity is unclear, claimed that someone was trying to stab herself and others and additionally had “put hands” on her grandmother. The police were not dispatched until 4:35 pm, and subsequently arrived at the scene at 4:44 pm.
Body cam footage from Reardon, released within only six hours of the incident, shows the police officers’ arrival at the house. As Reardon approaches he asks, “What’s going on? Hey, what’s going on?” Ma’Khia, knife in hand, is seen pushing over another girl and attempting to swing at her with the weapon. As Reardon repeatedly shouts, “Get down, get down,” Bryant proceeds to charge towards a different girl, who is wearing a bright pink outfit, and corners her against a car. As Bryant raises the knife, Reardon fires; four shots are heard.
Within seconds of the shots, another officer begins to do CPR on Bryant, saying, “Stay with us Ma’Khia.” A witness in the video is recorded asking Reardon why he shot Ma’Khia, in which the officer replies, referring to Bryant’s actions towards the girl in pink: “She came at her with a knife.” Bryant was brought to Mt. Carmel East Hospital; at 5:30 pm, it was announced that she had died.
A further video was captured by a neighbor’s security camera, providing a little more insight into the events leading up to the officers’ arrival and a view of the incident at a distance. In the footage, there seems to be a verbal argument between Ma’Khia and a group of girls: loud yelling and screaming is heard.
In an interview, the neighbor, whose camera recorded the incident, sympathized with Reardon, saying: “It was surreal. I can’t believe this just happened. Unfortunately, the cop had only seconds to respond. Once I saw the body cam video, I realized the young lady had a knife. It could have been worse. It could have been two people dead if he didn’t respond as fast as he did.”
Ma’Khia, since this Valentine’s Day, had been in foster care, living with her sister under the guardianship of Angela Moore. Moore says that she believes she knows the reason behind the argument, claiming that a previous foster child of hers had commented on Ma’Khia and her sister’s rooms being messy. Don Byrant, the cousin of Ma’Khia’s mother, Paula Byrant, was questioned about Ma’Khia’s foster care situation. He responded by stating that Ma’Khia and her mother “loved each other” and that “Paula was working very hard to get her daughter back.”
Additionally, Don Byrant criticized the Columbus police force, stating, “I’m seriously asking the Columbus Police Department: What’s going on?” He acknowledged, ”I’m a supporter of our police, but what’s going on here? What’s going on that we have to be so trigger-happy these days? And here’s what I don’t want … is this whole Blue Lives versus Black Lives matter issue. Listen here, there’s been a loss of life, bottom line, and you have a grieving mother who is just heartbroken.”
Ma’Khia’s death has sparked protests of hundreds of demonstrators in Columbus. On Legion Lane, outside of Ma’Khia’s house, a memorial has been erected, honoring her death with flowers, gifts and balloons. Austin Owens, Ma’Khia’s business teacher, described his former student: “She was going to run the world, and she wasn’t going to be ostentatious about it. She was going to do it.” Owens referred to a five-year plan assignment Ma’Khia wrote, detailing her dreams to go on to college and open her own business, an eyelash salon.
“The language she used in her five-year plan was somebody who desperately wanted better for her life. And she wanted to make her parents proud. She wanted to be a productive citizen. I’m not paraphrasing — these are her exact words,” Owens told reporters.
Ma’Khia’s mother, Paula Bryant, reflecting on her daughter’s death, stated, “Ma’Khia was a sweet little girl. She didn’t deserve what happened to her.”
A statement was released by the Bryant family on Thursday: “Ma’Khia was a good student, a good person, and did not deserve what happened to her. We want to remind everyone Ma’Khia was only a 16 year old teenage girl. We are deeply disturbed by the disproportionate and unjustified use of force in this situation. And while we remain encouraged by public support and all of the prayers shared with us; at the end of the day, we know nothing will bring back our beloved Ma’Khia. We respectfully request justice for Ma’Khia Bryant.”
At the News Conference Wednesday, Police Chief, Michael Woods, vocalized his condolences towards the family, “It’s a tragedy. There’s no other way to say it. It’s a 16-year-old girl.” Woods announced that Reardon, who had only joined the Columbus police force in December of 2019, would be “‘taken off the street” while an investigation was underway. When asked about Reardon’s use of force, Woods said that a police officer is allowed to use deadly force against someone armed with a weapon in order to protect themselves or another. Also, he noted that officers are not required to announce that they are going to fire their weapon before doing so.
Further examination of the shooting is being handled by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. As of now, much more information is needed. At the conference on Wednesday, Ned Pettus Jr., Columbus Public Safety Director, discussed the necessity of further inquiry: “The video shows that there is more to this. It requires us to pause, to take a close look at the sequence of events and, though it’s not easy, wait for the facts as determined by an independent investigation. We have to ask ourselves: What information did the officer have? What did he see? How much time did he have to assess the situation? And what would have happened had he taken no action at all?”