White Man Wrongly Branded as Killer of 7-Year-Old Jazmine Barnes Dead of Apparent Suicide

Screenshot: ABC 13 Houston

Many hearts shattered with the news of the tragic shooting death of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes, the little girl who was gunned down in a Houston-area Walmart parking lot in December 2018.

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Initially thought to be a racially motivated crime, an innocent white man whose photo went viral soon after the incident has died of an apparent suicide.

ABC 13 Houston reports that Robert Paul Cantrell, 49, was found by staff at the Montgomery County Jail in the early morning hours of July 23, hanged in his cell. Cantrell had been charged with robbery evading. The news site reports that jail employees tried to revive him to no avail.

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Cantrell’s name and face went viral shortly after little Jazmine’s death, driven in large part by a Twitter post with Cantrell’s mug shot next to the police’s composite sketch. It was tweeted out by activist Shaun King to his more than 1 million followers.

According to the ABC-13, the now-deleted tweet offering a $25,000 reward read: “We’ve had 20 people call or email us and say he is a racist, violent (expletive) and always has been. Just tell me everything you know.”

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Cantrell’s niece said shortly after the post was released that her uncle was threatened with “rape, torture and murder [of] the women and children in your family.”

And yet, as everyone learns in Journalism 101, we have to be very careful in branding people of heinous crimes because if they turn out to be innocent, the consequences can be grievous (and as a case study, look no further than Richard Jewell, who was falsely accused of being the Atlanta Olympics bomber.)

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In this case, as reported by The Root, two other men, Eric Black, 20, and Larry Woodruffe, 24, were charged with capital murder for the Dec. 30, 2018 shooting death of Jazmine. They are both African American.

Cantrell’s cause of death is currently under investigation, according to reports.

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About the author

Angela Helm

Ms. Bronner Helm is a Contributing Editor at The Root. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.