Robert Dentmond, 16, was killed Sunday night by local law enforcement outside his Gainesville, Fla. home.
The incident began when Dentmond placed a 911 call saying he was armed and was going to kill himself. Relatives and friends say that Dentmond was depressed, and ten minutes before he placed the 911 call, he was messaging with a friend about how he was “done with life.”
Alachua County sheriff’s deputies and Gainesville, FL, police officers responded to his apartment complex, including four with special training in deescalating situations involving people in a mental health crisis.
They found Dentmond in the parking lot, holding what looked like a rifle, but which would later turn out to be a harmless toy gun.
Initially, they were able to get him to put it down, but he remained standing by it. Several minutes passed as the police tried to get Dentmond to step away from the toy gun, but he remained standing there. Then he picked it up and began to walk backwards, in the direction of the building he lived in with his sister. Witnesses reported his sister trying to talk him down from the building.
The police ordered him to stop moving and put down the gun again, with an ultimatum that if he stepped back further they would shoot. Dentmond stopped but remained holding the gun. Then, he took one more step back, and nine officers opened fire, killing him.
“I felt like they should have let the sister holla at him. She could have got him to put the gun down,” said a neighbor and witness, Flip Hudson, to WUFT.
“I mean, there was obviously a better way to handle this instead of murdering a 16 year old boy who was obviously begging for someone to help him end his life, they gave him exactly what he was going for,” Kevin Appel Jr., Dentmond’s uncle, told the Independent Florida Alligator.
“This was obviously a lethal force situation … We cannot allow an individual who has shown us signs of willingness to harm himself or others to to walk into an apartment armed with an assault rifle,” said Lt. Brandon Kutner, speaking for the Alachua Sheriff.
The officers also had a lesser level of force available to take down Dentmond – a K9 was on the scene – but the dog was not deployed.
Besides killing Dentmond, the volley of shots put other residents of the apartment complex in danger. Shots cut through the apartment buildings and into residents’ homes. Showing Gainesville Sun reporters bulletholes directly above her bed, Trenesha McQueen said “If I would have been up I would have been shot in the back of the head.”
Appel has organized a fundraiser to cover the costs of Dentmond’s funeral.