The boiling point in the feud between Miami teenagers happened when they mouthed off to each other. Not face to face but on Facebook.
Hours later, with tension inflamed after that video chat on the social media app, the sides squared off in an afternoon gun battle in a North Miami-Dade apartment complex know as the Colors. An errant bullet struck 6-year-old King Carter as he walked to buy candy at a corner store.
One of the teens involved in the gunfight, Tamar Teems, pleaded guilty last week and told his story for the first time to prosecutors. His newly released sworn statement fills in some missing details of what sparked the shootout that killed the little boy in February 2016, a tragedy that fueled community marches and calls from civic and political leaders to reduce street violence.
Teems — who may be called to testify against two of his friends charged in the attack — told prosecutors that he was armed but he never fired that night. His gun was broken.
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King’s death was heavily covered by TV and newspapers. But just as social media was the catalyst for the fight, it was also the way the 16-year-old Teems learned about King’s death the following night.
“On the news,” prosecutor Elena Doyle asked.
“No, Facebook,” Teems said.
Teems, now 18, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to 5 years in state prison. After that, he’ll serve 2 years of house arrest, plus 8 years of probation.
King’s murder galvanized community leaders and activists in a case that was one of a string of killings of young people in Miami-Dade’s most impoverished neighborhoods.
His father, Santonio Carter, has become a prominent voice against youth violence. County leaders even named a street outside the Blue Lake Village Apartments, where King was killed, in the boy’s honor.
Detectives arrested Irwen “Chris” Pressley, 19, and Leonard Adams, 20, and Teems. They are alleged to have been targeting a rival named Juwuan “Juju” Ray at the housing complex.
Exactly what sparked the feud has always been far from clear.
Three months after the shooting, Ray testified at a bail hearing that two young men, including one with Adams’ hairstyle, jumped out of a car that day and began shooting at him. He testified that he did not know Adams or Pressley, but admitted he had borrowed a pistol that day before walking over to the apartments to hang out as he always did. Ray claimed he did not know of any specific threats looming over him.
“Just a feeling,” he testified when asked why he had a gun.
Pressley told police that there had been some sort of beef via Facebook. Ray claimed there was no squabble, although he admitted to posting a mocking post aimed at Adams and Pressley — after the shooting.
But Teems, in a sworn statement on Feb. 26, said Juju knew what was going on.
Teems grew up with Adams and Pressley, and that day they were hanging out with some other friends who gathered up guns for them. At Adams’ house, the teen recalled, Pressley got the video-chat call from “Juju.” He didn’t say exactly what sparked the argument, but he witnessed the Facebook exchange.
“I seen them get into it,” Teems told prosecutors.
After Pressley hung up the phone, the trio schemed a way to find Juju. They borrowed a Lexus belonging to a friend’s mother. They stopped at a park in Opa-locka to smoke, then drove to the Colors, where Teems spotted Ray sitting on some steps, recognizing him by his sneakers.
They pulled over and Teems and Pressley popped out of the car.
“Chris shot one time and Juju shot back. And they started going at it,” Teems said.
Teems claimed he tried shooting but the gun didn’t work. Juju ran upstairs in the complex, while other people in the building started firing at the Lexus.
Adams, behind the wheel of the getaway car, got nicked in the neck by a bullet. The teens escaped — Adams briefly went to a hospital. The three were arrested days later.
Although whose bullet killed King — the projectile passed through the child’s body and was never found — remains unknown, prosecutors believe it was not Juju’s bullet because of where the boy was found, around two corners and out of range. But under Florida law, Adams and Pressley could be convicted of felony murder regardless because they participated in the attack that led to the boy’s death.
Adams and Pressley have pleaded not guilty. A trial date has not been set.