GARY — The family and friends of Rashad Cunningham alternated between tears and anger Monday night as they demanded answers detailing why the 25-year-old Gary man was fatally shot by police early Saturday morning.
"My son was not the type, he was not the human being in the flesh, that would create a problem. My son loved his kids; he loved his family," said Tonia Simmons, Cunningham's mother, during a vigil near the shooting site at East 23rd Avenue and Kentucky Street. "I need justice for my son."
Heather Fox, who dated Cunningham for the past four years and has a child with him, said Cunningham was doing nothing wrong when police inexplicably shot him in a parked car after seeing him holding a gun that Fox said Cunningham was legally licensed to carry.
"How do I explain it to my baby? How do I explain it to him when he asks, 'Where's my daddy?'" Fox said.
Chicago activist Eric Russell, standing near signs reading "Rashad's life matters," "Justice for Rashad" and "Only the guilty hides," minced no words in condemning "bad" police officers, who he said are "hunting black men."
"We have another black man that has been executed," Russell said. "This family deserves some answers and all we ask is simple, here in Gary we want the police to uphold the law while they enforce the law. We just ask that black people and citizens in general just be treated with a certain amount of dignity and respect."
According to Gary police, officers responded to a call of "shots fired" in the area at 3:16 a.m. Saturday.
Police then encountered a parked vehicle with three occupants. They approached the vehicle to investigate, and, in the process, "a police officer's weapon was discharged, resulting in the death of Rashad Cunningham," police said.
The Gary Police Department declined to provide any further information about the incident or the other people in the vehicle, identify the officers involved in the investigation, name the officer who fired the fatal shot or say whether the officer has been placed on administrative leave.
They referred inquires to the Lake County Sheriff's Department, which also declined to comment specifically about its independent investigation into the circumstances of the police-involved shooting.
"Once our investigators complete their work, the facts of the case will be turned over to the Lake County prosecutor's office," said Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr.
Back at the shooting site, Cunningham's family and friends demanded Gary police immediately release all body and dashboard camera recordings, so they can find out exactly what happened to cause Cunningham's life to be taken from him.
"Release the video. Release the video," they shouted while lighting candles lining the sidewalk and releasing dozens of star-shaped Mylar balloons in memory of Cunningham.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson in a statement said the Gary police department does not use body or dashboard cameras, so there are no recordings to release.
"The loss of life is a tragedy. We offer condolences to the family of Mr. Cunningham," Freeman-Wilson said. "We realize the frustrations associated with losing a loved one and our community has many questions about the incident. Answers to those questions will come with a full, independent investigation."
The mayor added that when the answers are available, "The Gary police department will be open and transparent in communicating with the public."