ASHLAND, Ore. — An Oregon man has been arrested and charged in the fatal shooting of a Black 19-year-old following what authorities described as a dispute over loud music.
Robert Paul Keegan, 47, of Talent, is charged with second-degree murder, reckless endangerment and unlawful carrying or concealing of a firearm. Jackson County Jail records show he has also been arraigned on the lesser charge of first-degree manslaughter.
Keegan is being held without bail in the Nov. 23 death of Aidan Ellison, who died eight years to the day after Jordan Davis, a Florida 17-year-old killed over loud music outside a convenience store in 2012. Like Ellison, Davis was Black.
Davis’ killer, Michael David Dunn, was convicted in 2014 and sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 90 years. Like Dunn, Keegan is white.
In last week’s killing, Ashland police officials said that officers were called around 4:20 a.m. to the Stratford Inn, where they found Ellison dead of a single gunshot wound to the chest. Keegan, who was at the scene when officers arrived, was detained immediately.
“The investigation indicates that Keegan and the victim, who did not know each other, were engaged in an argument in the parking lot when Keegan pulled a gun from his coat and fired a single shot, striking the victim in the chest,” according to a statement from the department.
Ashland police Chief Tighe O’Meara told KTVL in Medford that loud music led to the encounter between the two men, both of whom were guests at the hotel. Keegan’s son, a third-grader, was with him when the shooting took place.
The father and son had been displaced by the Almeda fire, authorities said. Keegan’s son has been released into the custody of a grandparent.
“The victim had apparently been playing some music loudly in the parking lot and this upset the suspect, which caused the suspect to go down and engage him in an argument,” O’Meara said, according to the station.
The chief also cited the loud music in a statement that has since been deleted from the department’s Facebook page, according to the Oregonian. O’Meara on Thursday posted a clarification of his statement, in which he seemed to accuse local media sources of misrepresenting his words.
“It has been reported in some local media sources that I said this murder was ‘because of’ something,” O’Meara said. “The only thing that caused this murder was suspect’s actions, 100%. It is completely immaterial what led up to it.”
The chief said he cannot control the media.
“Yes, there was an argument over music. No, this did not happen because of loud music,” O’Meara said. “It happened because the suspect chose to bring a gun with him and chose to use it.”
O’Meara said the shooting was “100% on (Keegan)” and “not the poor young man that was murdered.”
“I would like to thank the community members who reached out to me to express their concern over how the situation was reported,” the chief said.
O’Meara’s clarification appeared to come after Ellison’s killing made national headlines and caught the attention of Black Lives Matter activists, both locally and across the U.S. Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump spoke out on the young shooting victim’s behalf, saying that his killing was not truly about music.
“That’s false justification for killing a Black teen,” Crump wrote on social media. “This was a racially-motivated shooting by a suspected white supremacist.”
Leaders of Southern Oregon Black Leaders, Activists and Community Coalition, or SOBLACC, issued a statement on Thursday, shortly after O’Meara’s clarification was posted.
In their statement, they pointed out that Ashland’s Black community makes up just 2% of the city’s population of just over 21,000. They also alleged that southern Oregon’s “cultural practice of white supremacy … makes white people believe that they are an extension of the police force and have the right to police Black bodies.”
“To be clear, Aidan was murdered because he was a young Black person who made a white man uncomfortable and refused to submit to that man’s personally-perceived authority — not because he was listening to music too loudly,” the statement read.
Ashland Mayor-elect Julie Akins wrote on Facebook that, as a white woman, she has been reticent to issue a statement regarding the killing because it is a time for Ellison’s loved ones and the city’s Black community to be heard. She wrote, however, that as a member of the white community, she could say “it is past time we take stock of systemic racism, which continues to cause the death of our brothers and sisters of color.”
“It’s not a coincidence that a white man, according to police, chose to take the life of a young Black man for the offense of playing his music. This is at the root of racism,” Akins wrote. “This is how people and cultures are erased through deeply ingrained violence.
“Aidan, by all accounts, was merely being, living his life. Now his life is gone. And with it comes yet another reminder of how deadly white privilege can be.”
Oregon Moms Demand Action, a chapter of the Moms Demand Action gun control advocacy group, on Saturday released statistics that indicate Black Oregonians are dying by gun violence at five times the rate of their white counterparts.
“We’re horrified,” Amie Wexler, a volunteer with the group, said in a statement obtained by the Oregonian. “Aidan Ellison should be alive today. Instead, another family is mourning and the country is learning the name of yet another Black teenager who didn’t get the chance to grow up.”
Friends of Ellison mourned his death at a vigil Thanksgiving night in the parking lot where he died. They have also started a fundraiser on Etsy selling T-shirts and hoodies bearing his name.
Ellison’s friends described him to KTVL as a kind young man with a bright smile.
“Selfless, kind, pure, loving, electric,” Tzadhii Burt said. “He just lit up the room every time. Every time I was there, every time I was around him, every time he would show up to a place.”
A friend of Keegan’s wrote on a GoFundMe page, which has since been deleted, that he and his son, Cooper, lost their home and belongings in the Sept. 8 fire that ravaged south Oregon.
“It was the first day of third grade for Coop; he was in a Zoom meeting with his teacher and classmates when the fire started, just two blocks from their house,” the page read.
The fundraising page, set up by an employee at the boy’s school, described Keegan as a “devoted single dad with a huge heart” who regularly volunteers at the school. The page raised more than $7,000 before it was removed.
A GoFundMe page set up for Ellison’s family had earned more than $14,000 as of noon Monday.
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