HOUSTON (AP) — Hundreds of people who gathered at a rally Saturday for a 7-year-old Houston girl whose killer remains at large were asked to think of the victim as their own child and to be part of an "army" that will help authorities catch the person who fatally shot her.
The rally was held in the parking lot of a Walmart near where the shooting happened on Dec. 30 as Jazmine Barnes and her family drove to a grocery store.
During the rally, people held up balloons and stuffed animals, as well as signs that said "Justice for Jazmine." Organizers of the rally also led the crowd in chants that repeated the phrases, "What do we want? Justice. Who do we want it for? Jazmine."
Jazmine's family believes her death was racially motivated. The girl was black and the alleged shooter is described as a white man in a red truck.
Police have said they are pursuing various leads after a composite sketch of the suspect was released on Thursday. Investigators added that they have not yet determined a motive, including whether race might have played a role.
Lee Merritt, a national civil rights attorney working with Jazmine's family, said there were no updates in the search on Saturday.
In an emotional speech, Jazmine's aunt, Sharonica Watt, asked her niece's killer why he took the little girl's life.
"We're asking you to turn yourself in right now, in the name of Jesus. We're asking you to give justice to me and my family," Watt yelled in between tears.
Deric Muhammad, a community activist who helped organize Saturday's rally, told the crowd that everyone there had a role to play "in finding justice for this baby."
"We all consider ourselves soldiers in Jazmine's army," he said.
Jazmine's mother, LaPorsha Washington, also addressed the crowd, thanking them for their support.
"We going to find him no matter what corner we have to turn. No matter what rock we have gotta go under, we are going to find you," Washington said.
Various local and federal officials, including Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, attended the rally. Houston-based rappers Paul Wall and Trae tha Truth asked the crowd to reach out to authorities if they have any information on the shooter.
"At the end of the day, Jazmine is ours. She's my kid. She's your kid," Trae tha Truth said. "There's no excuse. It's no what I shoulda, what I coulda. At the end of the day it's simple. We all have to stand up."
Lee said she planned to reach out to federal authorities to ask them to create a national manhunt for Jazmine's killer. The Harris County Sheriff's Office in Houston, which is leading the investigation, said it's already working with the FBI and other federal agencies.
A $100,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest.
Others at the rally discussed their belief that the shooting was racially motivated and was reflective of what they see as growing intolerance and attacks on minorities and immigrants in the United States.
Community activists said the attack is similar to a 2017 incident in the area in which a suspect described as white shot into a vehicle carrying at least two black people. That shooting remains unsolved.
"This is a disgrace to our nation and we want the hate to stop. We want love to rise up," said Bishop E. L. Usher, the pastor at the church attended by Jazmine's father.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70