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Father of boy killed in a stolen car in Denver accuses the car's owner of acting like a vigilante

Tony Webster
CC BY-SA 4.0

The father of a 12-year-old boy shot and killed in a stolen car by the car's owner is accusing the man of acting like a vigilante.

At a vigil Thursday night, Elias Armstrong's father, Thomas Armstrong, said a police detective told the family last week that the people in the stolen car fired one or two shots while the car's owner fired 15 rounds, "emptying his clip", The Denver Gazette reported. Authorities do not know who fired first, he said.

Surveillance video obtained by the newspaper show the Feb. 5 shootout lasted a matter of seconds. It shows the stolen car's owner drive up and park in front of his stolen Audi and then run quickly back to it. There is some smoke that can be seen, presumably from gunfire, before the Audi drives away about 10 seconds after the man approached.

"He approached the car with the gun, running to the car, and (then he) pulled the gun out and started shooting right away. He was upset at these kids for taking his car and he's angry. And he's coming to kill these kids over his car," Thomas Armstrong said on the eve of Elias' funeral. "It was pretty much vigilante justice."

Police did not immediately respond to questions regarding the family's account.

Police have said the owner of the stolen car used an app to track and find his vehicle — and that when he approached it, there was an "exchange of gunfire" with at least one person inside the car. They said Elias Armstrong drove the car a few blocks away and was found by officers inside with a gunshot wound. He died after being taken to the hospital.

Other people who were in the vehicle appeared to run away before officers arrived, police said.

Police have previously said they could not release any documents in the case because they were still investigating both the car theft and the shooting.

Last week, the office of Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said it would not charge the car's owner because it did not believe it could guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in the Feb. 5 shooting, an ethical standard it must meet in order to file charges.

In a statement Thursday, McCann said she and a detective met with the family last week to explain the decision not to prosecute the car's owner which she said is based on the "self-defense issues which were present at the time."

"My heart goes out to Elias Armstrong's family in this time of terrible and overwhelming grief," she said.