BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – On Thursday, in front of Birmingham City Hall, Erica Tenice Connell said her son Keleen was her bell pepper and onions boy.
When she cooked each night, she said, each of her three sons had a role to play. Kerry, her eldest, was the DJ. Kameron would oversee the process, helping wherever he could. Keleen helped cook the bell peppers and onions.
On Wednesday evening, Birmingham police shot and killed Keleen Connell, Erica’s bell pepper boy. He is the second of Erica Connell’s sons to die from gun violence.
A day after Keleen’s death, in front of city hall, Erica Connell demanded answers about the fatal shooting of her son.
So far, police have released only limited information about what led to officers shooting and killing Connell on Wednesday.
Birmingham police (BPD) have said that officers encountered Connell in the Tom Brown Village Housing Community at approximately 5:54 p.m. on Wednesday. A foot pursuit, a BPD press release said, led to the 4300 block of Morris Avenue in the Avondale neighborhood.
“During the interaction, the suspect was shot,” the BPD statement said. Police have not said what Connell was suspected of.
During comments that lasted only 20 seconds, Scott Thurmond, interim chief of the Birmingham Police Department, said Wednesday evening that a firearm was found on the scene, but Thurmond did not answer questions from reporters.
In her remarks outside city hall, Erica Connell called out efforts to paint her son as a violent man.
“They painted him as a horrible criminal,” she said. “He was a big, bubbly teddy bear. A mama’s boy. He slept with me until he was 15 years old.”
Connell said she wasn’t notified about her son’s death by police. Instead, she said God led her to contact law enforcement herself. She’d heard that a man had been shot and killed by police in Avondale. She was worried about her son.
“What is wrong is for Birmingham police to neglect to tell me what happened to my son,” she said. “I demand to know. They didn’t contact me. God had me go down to that precinct yesterday evening.”
When she asked staff at the police precinct whether her son had been killed by police, she was told that she’d be given a call. But the staffer, Erica Connell said, lowered her head as she spoke.
“I knew right then. A certain type of electrical chill went through my body as if I was tasered, like they tasered my baby down on the ground,” she said. “I feel my kid’s pain. Because I’m not a mammy. I’m not the type to put nobody before my kids.”
She said Birmingham police were aware that Keleen suffered from mental illness. Many officers she knows liked Keleen, she told members of the media on Thursday.
“All of us are flawed,” she said. “All of us deal with trauma every single day of our life. No one and nothing is perfect. No one will paint my son to be a bad person when he would do anything for anybody.”
As Erica Connell spoke outside city hall on Thursday — a day after Acting Chief Thurmond refused to answer questions from the media — BPD released an additional comment on the acting chief’s behalf.
“It is heartbreaking and devastating in all cases of officer involved shootings,” Thurmond said in the prepared statement. “The Birmingham Police Department would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of those involved as well as the community. The Birmingham Police Department acknowledges how significant incidents affect the community and is fully committed to providing the highest quality of police services to our community.”
Keleen Connell’s best friend, Jade Little, who is also demanding answers in the case, said that the chief’s statement came too late.
“He could’ve said that last night,” Little said.
You can watch Erica Connell’s full comments below.