On Friday, Theodore P. Wafer, a white, suburban Detroit airport worker charged in connection with the Nov. 2 shooting death of Renisha McBride, ceased to be an inconspicuous American.
Standing before Michigan District Court Judge Mark J. Plawecki with eyes fixed and hands clasped tightly below his waist, the 54-year-old Wafer had an expression that seemed to reveal a cocktail of fear, irritation and anxiety.
He joined a short but notorious list of private-citizen gun owners accused in the last two years of gunning down unarmed black teens, then offering the same difficult-to-confirm explanation: They shot and killed in an act of self-defense. McBride, 19, was killed by a shotgun blast to the face. Wafer faces a series of charges, including second-degree murder, which is punishable by as much as life in prison.
But just who Wafer is and what, if anything, he has in common with men like acquitted shooter George Zimmerman and accused gunman Michael Dunn—weapon owners charged in 2012 with the deaths of unarmed black teens, who made comments before and after the incidents understood by many as racist—remain a partial mystery.
Like Zimmerman and Dunn, who awaits trial on first-degree murder charges, Wafer claims that he shot and killed his unarmed victim while in fear for his own life. All three men live in states where a self-defense policy pushed by the National Riffle Association known as “Stand your ground” gives shooters wider latitude to use deadly force and make no effort to retreat before firing. Still, this may be where the similarities between the three end.
Wafer has no apparent online presence. His siblings and several neighbors declined to comment when contacted by The Root. And police in Dearborn Heights, Mich., the largely white Detroit-area community where McBride was killed, did not respond by deadline to a request for information about what, if anything, they knew about Wafer before McBride’s death.
Until Friday’s hearing, even his name, address and occupation were withheld by the DHPD. Marie Miller, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County prosecutor’s office, described the move as customary when an investigation is ongoing. But Michigan law does not generally shield police reports from public review during or after an investigation, an open-records expert with the nonprofit Reporter’s Committee For Freedom of the Press told The Root Friday.
In court, Wafer’s lawyer described the Michigan native as a long-time employee of the Wayne County Detroit Metropolitan Airport with a top-level security clearance. An official with the Wayne County Airport Authority, which oversees the facility, told The Root that Wafer is an airport maintenance and transport worker who has been placed on administrative leave.
Outside of work, Wafer lives alone, neighbors told the Detroit Free Press. And Wafer’s attorney also told the court that he helps to care for his 81-year-old mother.