TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — A 17-year-old boy was killed by officers after they said he pointed a rifle at them in Tarpon Springs Saturday night.
Police said around 9:30 p.m., the police department received several calls in reference to a person dressed all in black walking down Pinellas Ave., in the area of Tarpon Ave., with a military-style rifle. Witnesses said the teen was pointing the rifle at people driving by.
Officers later located the teen near the intersection of Tarpon Ave. and Pinellas Ave.
The teen pointed the rifle at several cars and at responding officers. Two officers fired 12 rounds at the teen, police said.
"The officers, in fear for theirs and the lives of others, fired multiple rounds at the subject," said Tarpon Springs Police Chief Jeff Young.
The officers immediately began administering first aid. The teen was later taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead from his injuries, police said.
Officers said when they got close to the teen, they discovered the military-style rifle was actually an airsoft gun, which shoots plastic BBs.
Bodycam footage released Monday shows the entire encounter, from police arriving at the scene to shots being fired, lasted 46 seconds.
Dr. David Thomas is a law enforcement expert and forensics professor at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU). He said responding officers had to make a tough call quickly.
"Is that person a threat to an officer? Or are they a threat to citizens?" he said.
After the teen's age was made public, some wondered if the encounter could have ended differently, but Dr. Thomas says the officers' intent was likely not to kill.
"Officers aren't trained to shoot to kill. They're trained to shoot to stop the threat," he said.
Police said the teen has had 22 different interactions with law enforcement. Eleven with other Pinellas County law enforcement agencies and 11 with the Tarpon Springs Police Department.
The teen also had two felony arrests in his past: Battery on a school board employee in 2017 and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in 2018.
At this time, the two officers involved in the shooting are on administrative leave.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney's Office are actively investigating this case.
Dr. Thomas says no matter the outcome of the investigation, the shooting will take a mental toll.
"If the shooting is justified, then I think you can live with it much better than when it's not," he said.
The teen was a junior at Tarpon Springs High School. The Pinellas County School District released the following statement:
"The Pinellas County Schools community is saddened by the passing of one of our students at Tarpon Springs High School. The district Students Services team will provide grief counselors for students and staff needing assistance. Our thoughts and prayers are with the student's family and friends. Please refer questions related to this incident to the Tarpon Springs Police Department."