What really happened the night Renisha McBride died?

Nov 11, 2013

It's been a weary, awful November in metro Detroit so far. 

A week ago Saturday, 19-year-old Renisha McBride was shot dead by a 54-year-old white homeowner in Dearborn Heights.

She was killed on his porch. Her family says she was looking for help after her car crashed, more than 2 hours earlier and about six blocks away in Detroit.

Police haven't released the homeowner's name yet. But his attorney says he thought McBride was an intruder, and that the gun went off accidentally. An autopsy confirms she was shot in the face.

So far, he hasn't been arrested. The Wayne County Prosecutor's office announced Monday that it had "begun the warrant review process," but was awaiting more evidence from Dearborn Heights police before deciding on charges.

In the days that followed McBride's death, about two dozen people were shot. By now, you can hear the exhaustion in some people's voices. 

Even at Renisha McBride's funeral, fatigue was the overriding emotion. 

Sure, the semi-circle of TV cameras and reporters outside the church gave things a circus-like feel.

Reporters wait for the family's spokesperson to emerge from McBride's funeral.
Reporters wait for the family's spokesperson to emerge from McBride's funeral.
Credit Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

So did the brightly colored three-piece suits several gentlemen wore to the memorial service, with feathers tucked into their fedoras.  Several women squeezed into skyscraper stilettos, plunging necklines peeking out under fur coats. 

Several of her relatives talked about how unjust McBride's death was, and the anger they feel over what they believe was a racially-motivated killing.

But in the church parking lot, under a low afternoon sky, three women - all lifelong Detroiters - say they've finally been pushed to their breaking points.

"It's too much. I've lost both my sons. I'm getting my grandkids' sons and getting em' out of Michigan, out of Detroit. I am so out of here," says Bernice Reed.    

A young woman's life, and death

Nineteen-year-old Ranisha McBride was a little spoiled, says her cousin Krystal Byrd.

"Anything Nisha wanted, she got. She had plenty of cars. Her first car, she tore it up by mistake somehow. Her dad told her that he wasn't going to get her another one. He made her wait a month and then he got her another one. She had another accident, somehow he got her another one! So Nisha was very spoiled, anything she wanted, she got."

Still, says Byrd, "she was a very sweet lady. She was outgoing. She cared for everybody. If she was around somebody, she'd offer a word of advice and try to cheer them up."

Another cousin, Monique Hobbs, says McBride had the frustrating habit of making you laugh when you were mad at her. 

"She just had a wonderful smile that always kept a smile on my face. She loved to sing, she loved to crack jokes. Even if you mad at Ne-Ne, she's gonna come in the house and say something that's gonna make you laugh like, get on with your fat self! You know?"

"She wanted to be a police officer," says Hobbs.  "She always talked about it. A lot of our family members passed away from the streets, from robbery. And she felt like she loved the people in our city and community, that she wanted to help."

Rallies and vigils in Dearborn Heights

"Let's lift her name up, together, c'mon yall!”

Organizer Dream Hampton calls to a small crowd holding hand-painted signs and wearing puffy winter coats.

Cars line up outside the church where McBride's funeral was held.
Cars line up outside the church where McBride's funeral was held.
Credit Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

They start chanting, their voices getting louder on this wet night outside the Dearborn Heights police station:

“Renisha Mcbride! Renisha McBride! Renisha McBride!”

For more than a week now, people have been coming out to candlelit vigils and these rallies to remember Renisha McBride.

Police say her car crashed around 1 am that Saturday.

Then, two hours later, around 3 am, McBride was a shot and killed on the front porch of a home on Outer Drive.

While Dearborn Heights is about 83% white, Outer Drive is a relatively diverse neighborhood, with small brick homes and neat, modest yards. 

Police won’t release the homeowner’s name yet, but confirmed that he did shoot and kill McBride.  

On the night of the shooting, he was taken to the police station, where he was questioned and then let go, according to his attorney.

Victim’s family is still waiting for justice

But McBride’s family isn’t buying it.

"My niece is gone. Now, right now, the way I'm feeling? It was racist."

Bernita Spinx is McBride's aunt. She told the local Fox news station that she believes McBride was just looking for help after her car crash.

"You seen this black African young lady, knocking - not breaking in your house, not breaking a window – knocking! For help!"

"If somebody knocked on my door and I pull out my shotgun, would I be standing here? No! I'd be in jail without a bond."

McBride’s family says they had to have a closed casket funeral for McBride, because of the gunshot wound to the front of her head.

Bernita Spinx says it’s unfair that her niece’s killer is still free. 

"And he's outta jail? Wow. Could I possibly do that? Somebody knocked on my door and I pull out my shotgun, would I be standing here? No, I'd be in jail without a bond."

The shooter’s side of the story

"There was a lot of banging. A lot of noise. And it didn't sound like just knocking."

Cheryl Carpenter is the homeowner's lawyer.

And while she too declines to give his name, she will say he lives alone and works full time.

On the night of the shooting, Carpenter says her client was afraid for his life, and regrets what he says was a tragic accident.

"He realizes that a life was taken. It was a young woman. And he is devastated by that fact."

"I want to say that this was a tragedy for everyone involved,” says Carpenter. “He realizes that a life was taken. It was a young woman. And he is devastated by that fact."

While there don’t appear to have been any eyewitnesses to the shooting, Dearborn Heights police say they do want to arrest the homeowner.

But the county prosecutor says more investigation still needs to be done.

Meanwhile, attorney Cheryl Carpenter says people are making up their minds before they have all the facts.

"You add the racial element to it, the case has now taken a life of its own, and it's not going down the right track."

“Then you add the racial element to it, the case has now taken a life of its own, and it's not going down the right track."

Too many unanswered questions remain

Still, the rallies for Renisha McBride continue.

And some protesters, like Dream Hampton, say McBride’s death reminds them of Trayvon Martin’s, the unarmed Florida teen who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

"This is unfortunately the strategy we had to take with Trayvon,” Hampton says. “People have to protest to get an arrest."

As anger in the community grows, no one seems any closer to understanding what actually happened on that porch in Dearborn Heights.