(CNN) — As protests in Ferguson, Missouri, continue to rage over the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, conflicting accounts and police reticence have made it difficult to ascertain what exactly happened.
Witnesses say a police officer shot the college-bound teen multiple times in cold blood, while police have declined to provide too many details aside from the allegation that Brown reached for the officer’s gun.
Here are five key questions about the incident.
How did it start?
Brown and Dorian Johnson, 22, were walking in the middle of the street, en route to either Brown’s grandmother’s house (according to Brown’s mother and grandmother) or to Johnson’s house (according to Johnson), when a Ferguson police officer confronted them.
The officer told the young men either “Get the f*** on the sidewalk” or “Get the f*** out of the street,” according to Johnson’s accounts to CNN and other news outlets.
The young men replied that they were “not but a minute away from our destination, and we would shortly be out of the street,” Johnson told CNN.
The officer drove away but stopped and backed up, almost hitting the pair, Johnson said. He said he wasn’t sure what prompted the officer to return. Johnson told MSNBC the officer said something to the effect of “What’d you say?”
“We were so close, almost inches away, that when he tried to open his door aggressively, the door ricocheted both off me and Big Mike’s body and closed back on the officer,” Johnson said.
Was there a struggle?
Yes. Everyone agrees on this point, and it’s one of the few aspects of the shooting that police have attempted to detail, though the official explanation has spurred many questions they have yet to answer.
The preliminary investigation showed that the officer tried to exit his vehicle, but Brown pushed him back into the car, “where he physically assaulted the police officer” and struggled over the officer’s weapon, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said.
A shot was fired inside the police car, Belmar said. After the incident, the officer was taken to an area hospital, where he was treated for a “swollen face,” according to Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson.
The story doesn’t jibe with at least three witness accounts.
Johnson claims the officer grabbed Brown by his neck, and Brown tried to pull away, but the officer kept pulling Brown toward him, he said.
The officer drew his weapon, and “he said, ‘I’ll shoot you’ or ‘I’m going to shoot’ ” and almost instantaneously fired his weapon, hitting Brown, Johnson said.
Witness Tiffany Mitchell was picking up Piaget Crenshaw for work when she saw Brown and the officer “tussling through the window.” Mitchell and Crenshaw concurred with Johnson, saying Brown appeared to be trying to pry himself from the officer’s grasp. Brown had his hand on the police cruiser, trying to push himself away, Mitchell said.
Was Brown armed?
No. Again, this is undisputed.
Every casing found at the scene came from the officer’s gun, Belmar said, and witnesses say that after the officer shot Brown, the two young men took off running.
“I saw the officer proceeding after my friend, Big Mike, with his gun drawn, and he fired a second shot, and that struck my friend, Big Mike,” Johnson said. “And at that time, he turned around with his hands up, beginning to tell the officer that he was unarmed and to tell him to stop shooting. But at that time, the officer was firing several more shots into my friend, and he hit the ground and died.”
This matches Crenshaw’s and Mitchell’s story. Crenshaw told CNN that Brown got about 20 feet away from the police cruiser before the officer shot him again.
“The cop gets out of his vehicle shooting,” Mitchell said. “(Brown’s) body jerked as if he was hit from behind, and he turned around, and he put his hands up. … The cop continued to fire until he just dropped down to the ground, and his face just smacked the concrete.”
All parties agree Brown was shot multiple times.
Mitchell said it was “more than about five or six” times, while Johnson said it was more than three.
Brown’s mother said she was told he was shot eight times. Some witnesses said they heard as many as 10 shots.
Belmar said only that it “was more than just a couple.”
What were Brown and Johnson doing before the incident?
On Friday, six days after the shooting, Ferguson police revealed that Brown was the “primary suspect” in the strong-arm robbery of a convenience store moments before he encountered police and was killed.
A store surveillance video shows a man pushing a clerk before walking out the front door with a box of Swisher Sweets cigars worth $48.99, according to information released by police.
The officer who later shot Brown was responding to a call about the robbery, Jackson said.
Johnson, who was with Brown when he was shot, will not face any criminal charges in connection with the store robbery because “we have determined he committed no crime,” Jackson said.
Has the officer been identified?
At first, no. Police initially promised to release the officer’s name but then declined. It took police six days to release the name of the officer, a delay that angered the community and protesters.
On Friday, police finally revealed the officer as Darren Wilson, 28, who is white and a six-year veteran of the department without any history of disciplinary action.
No further details were immediately available Friday.
Brown’s family and their attorneys were infuriated Friday at how police released Wilson’s identity and allegations of Brown’s role in the robbery on the same day.
“Michael Brown’s family is beyond outraged at the devious way the police chief has chosen to disseminate piece(meal) information in a manner intended to assassinate the character of their son, following such a brutal assassination of his person in broad daylight,” the family and attorneys said in a statement.
“There is nothing based on the facts that have been placed before us that can justify the execution style murder of their child by this police officer as he held his hands up, which is the universal sign of surrender.
“The prolonged release of the officer’s name and then the subsequent alleged information regarding a robbery is the reason why the family and the local community have such distrust for the local law enforcement agencies,” the statement added.
Wilson is on paid administrative leave, Belmar said, adding that he is “unaware of any other issues that he’s been involved in.”
The officer will have to undergo two psychological evaluations before returning to duty, Belmar said.
Though the officer was promptly released from the hospital, Jackson said he spoke to him, and he was “very shaken about what happened that day and the aftermath. … He’s hurt.”