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Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
The Rev. Saharra Bledsoe, center, leads a prayer vigil on the Courthouse Green on Sunday in response to events in Ferguson, Mo. About 30 people attended.

Residents pray for Ferguson

Mother shares son’s death at vigil

Rose Haney, whose son TaVontae was killed by Fort Wayne police in April 2013, is comforted during the vigil.

While tensions continued to escalate in a city hundreds of miles away where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, a crowd of about two dozen gathered on the Courthouse Green in Fort Wayne on Sunday.

They held their hands above their heads at times, just the way witnesses say Michael Brown did in Ferguson, Missouri, before he was shot and killed.

The group on the green prayed. They held signs. Then some spoke and shared stories.

They were there as part of a prayer vigil set up by the local NAACP. Among them, though, was one local woman who said she knows what the mother and family of Michael Brown are going through.

She knows, she said, because she’s been where they’ve been. News coming out of Ferguson, according to Rose Haney, is a replay of her son’s death.

“He had his hands up and they shot him,” said Rose Haney of her son, 20-year-old TaVontae Jamar Haney.

But just like the shooting in Ferguson, the stories of what led to the death of a young black man at the hands of police officers differ depending on whom you speak with. Allen County prosecutors have already absolved the officers involved in the death of Haney.

Brown was shot and killed Aug. 9 after he and a friend were stopped by a police officer while they walked in the middle of a street.

The police account has Brown struggling with the officer, who was still in his vehicle. Brown tried to grab the officer’s gun, according to police, and a round was fired inside the vehicle. At some point afterward, Brown was shot and killed.

So far, police in St. Louis County have not said how many times he was shot or released an incident report detailing the shooting.

Witnesses have come forward claiming they either did not see a struggle or that they saw a man fleeing the officer, only to turn around and put his hands in the air to show he was unarmed before being killed.

TaVontae Haney was shot and killed April 27, 2013, after a traffic stop involving a sport utility vehicle in which he was a passenger.

According to Fort Wayne Police, Haney and the driver both fled the SUV once the traffic stop happened. Officers chased him three blocks as he ran down an alley before being confronted at a side yard.

Police officials later said Haney, who had active warrants for misdemeanor charges, was armed with a handgun and that he raised it to point toward officers. These officials also said they had several witnesses who could corroborate that fact.

Two officers then shot and killed Haney.

Rose Haney said she’s spoken to other witnesses who claim he did not point a gun at officers but instead raised his hands. In fact, she said, she never knew anything about a gun being found by his body until the January or February following his death.

The Indiana State Police investigated the shooting and forwarded the results to Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards, who ruled that the officers were justified in shooting Haney.

“I pray every day for strength and justice,” said Haney, speaking to reporters at Sunday’s vigil. “I want those officers held accountable.”

In the aftermath of Brown’s killing, police and protesters have clashed. In some reports, the police have been the ones causing tensions to rise, while the police claim that some protesters have thrown objects at officers, leading to altercations.

Haney wants none of that in the city where she lives.

Nor does she want the looting or defacing of property that some businesses in Ferguson have experienced.

“The buildings didn’t do it,” she said of her son’s death.

And she doesn’t want her son’s children – a 4-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy – to grow up in a world where they think all police officers are the enemy. But that might already be happening, the way she sees her granddaughter interact with police officers she meets.

It doesn’t matter if the officer is a man or woman, white or black, according to Haney.

It’s always the same.

“She says, ‘You’re the police that killed my daddy,’ ” Haney said.