A student shot and killed by deputies in Washington state this month, who was originally reported to have been wielding a knife or “sharp object,” was in reality holding only a pen.
The night of June 13, Tommy Le was just hours away from his high school graduation, according to a Seattle Times report published Wednesday. The 20-year-old Vietnamese-American had been attending classes at Career Link, an alternative high school program at South Seattle College.
Just before midnight, the King County Sheriff’s Office received “multiple calls” about gunshots in a neighborhood in the city of Burien, according to a statement from the Sheriff’s Office. When the deputies arrived, they say they found that a homeowner had fired a “warning shot” in response to a man, later identified as Le, approaching him with what he thought was “a knife or some sort of sharp object.” The homeowner said the man had previously been chasing his friend.
The Sheriff’s Office said at the time that the homeowner fled inside, and Le pounded on the door and “stabbed” it with the sharp object, yelling that he was “The Creator.” They also said Le did not comply with deputy orders, did not drop the object, and that tasers “were not effective.”
Deputy Cesar Molina then shot Le three times, Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Cindi West later told Seattle Weekly. Le died of his injuries at a hospital.
Le’s family and community are grappling with questions about his death and the narrative coming from law enforcement.
For one thing, about a week after the shooting, the sheriff’s office revealed that the “sharp object” in Le’s hand turned out to be a pen.
“I’m so angry,” his father, Sunny Le, told The Seattle Times this week. “I want to know what happened to my son.” The outlet notes that Le weighed only about 100 pounds.
Descriptions of Le as an aggressive assailant don’t match up with the person his teachers and classmates knew.
“Tommy was one of the best classmates I could ever ask for.”
“I could tell you 100 people I would have imagined this happening to before him,” Career Link director and teacher Curt Peterson told the Times. “If we had a discipline file on Tommy it would be completely empty. He was the sweetest kid in the world. He didn’t have an aggressive bone in his body.”
Fellow student Nafisa Mohamednur posted a heartfelt tribute to Le on Facebook, saying he was “one of the best classmates I could ever ask for,” adding he always made people laugh.
And a school spokesman told the New York Daily News that Le was part of a close group of students and had never shown any signs of mental illness.
King County Medical Examiner’s Office are conducting toxicology reports to see if Le was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The shooting is under an investigation by the Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit. Deputy Molina is on administrative leave.
Linh Thai, director of Seattle’s Vietnamese Community Leadership Institute, told Seattle Weekly last week that while the community “has a tradition of respecting the law” and trusting the police, they are struggling with the news of the fatal shooting.