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18-month-old boy shot and killed in downtown Pittsburgh drive-by

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office late Sunday identified the child as DeAery Thomas.

  • Chris Potter/WESA

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

An 18-month-old boy was killed by gunfire in an apparent drive-by shooting in downtown Pittsburgh, police said. But while there were signs of an active investigation by Sunday evening, few details were available about the young victim or the motives of the shooter.

“We have information that we can’t verify at this news conference, but as soon as we get information that we can provide we will put it out to the public,” Assistant Chief Lavonnie Bickerstaff told reporters at a news briefing Sunday night at police headquarters.

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office late Sunday identified the child as DeAery Thomas.

Bickerstaff largely declined to answer questions about other developments in the case, though she said the shooting appeared to be targeted at someone else in the car in which DeAery was riding.

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and others pleaded with the public for help identifying the attacker.

“I’m asking the city to pray for this family who lost an 18-month-old baby,” Gainey said. “If anybody knows anything that can help this family, please call.”

Officers responded shortly after 2:30 p.m. to the 100 block of Fourth Avenue in response to a report that a child had been shot in a vehicle at an intersection not far from the PPG Place ice skating rink and Market Square.

Shortly afterward, there were “numerous 911 calls for shots fired in the area,” police Cmdr. Cristyn Zett told reporters.

Zett said the boy was pronounced dead at the scene. She said his mother was present, but that it was not clear who else was there and whether there was any connection between the shooter and DeAery.

“We’re following up on several leads right now,” Zett told reporters. She called it “a very active and ongoing investigation,” but she added, “We are not ready to release any descriptions to the public yet.”

Later Sunday afternoon, police were later seen on Tinsbury Street in the city’s Troy Hill neighborhood, appearing to investigate a black Jeep with the help of trained dogs, one of which was given a shirt to sniff.

At the Sunday-night news conference, Bickerstaff confirmed that “We believe that [the Jeep] was the vehicle that was used.” But as for whether the use of a shirt meant police had a suspect in mind, Bickerstaff would say only, “I can’t speak as it relates to the investigation, but I can say that we have collected evidence and the investigation is ongoing.”

Police also did not immediately discuss the evidence found at the shooting scene, although several shell casings were visible on the pavement. City police responded to that scene, along with Port Authority police, the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department and the city’s Emergency Medical Services.

Gainey said the city was working on an initiative to curb gun violence — one he said would be released next week and would focus most intensely on the “small number of extremely violent individuals” that were responsible for a disproportionately large set of violent acts.

U.S. Attorney Cindy K. Chung, who joined Gainey at the news conference, pledged federal resources to address the problem, which she called an “outrageous act in broad daylight.”

The shooting Sunday shooting is the latest in a string of recent acts of gun violence. A shooting at a North Side Airbnb resulted in the deaths of two teenagers, and Americans everywhere have been grappling with the deaths of 19 children and two teachers in Texas last week.

By Sunday evening, U.S. Senator Bob Casey cited the incident Downtown in a statement that asserted, “We need to address the gun-violence epidemic by passing common-sense gun laws and investing in community violence-intervention programs.”

Bickerstaff took a similar tack during her remarks Sunday evening.

“There’s just too many guns out there,” she said, blaming “irresponsible gun ownership” and straw purchases illegally made by third parties on behalf of people who shouldn’t have them, including “young people who are not using them as they should be.”

Bickerstaff said the shooting appeared to be a “targeted incident” — one directed at someone else in the car, rather than an undirected shooting spree. But she acknowledged that bystanders could be hit — as happened Sunday.

“That’s why I said we need to get these guns off the street,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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