DETROIT – Seven-year-old Aiyana Jones was asleep on the living room sofa in her family's apartment when Detroit police searching for a homicide suspect burst in and an officer's gun went off, fatally striking the girl in the neck, family members say.
Her father, 25-year-old Charles Jones, told The Detroit News he had just gone to bed early Sunday after covering his daughter with her favorite Disney princess blanket when he heard a flash grenade followed by a gunshot. When he rushed into the living room, he said, police forced him to lie on the ground, with his face in his daughter's blood.
"I'll never be the same. That's my only daughter," Jones told WXYZ-TV.
Assistant Chief Ralph Godbee said officers set off the flash grenade as they entered the apartment with their guns drawn about 12:40 a.m. Sunday with a warrant to look for a suspect in the Friday slaying of a 17-year-old boy. The lead officer's gun went off after he encountered a 46-year-old woman inside the front room of the house and "some level of physical contact" ensued. Police do not believe the gun was fired intentionally, he said.
"This is any parent's worst nightmare. It also is any police officer's worst nightmare," Godbee said.
Family members identified the woman as the child's grandmother and Charles Jones' mother, Mertilla Jones, who has said she was not involved in a struggle with the officer. Police later said the officer may have just collided with the woman.
Godbee said the shooting was being investigated and all information was preliminary. The officer was put on paid administrative leave, he said.
"This is a tragedy of unspeakable magnitude to Aiyana's parents, family and all those who loved her," Godbee said. "It is a tragedy we also feel very deeply throughout the ranks of the Detroit Police Department."
Charles Jones said he had to wait for hours to find out what had happened to his daughter.
"I saw them (police) running with my daughter out of the house. They had my mother on the floor, and they just kept me there for like two hours," Jones, 25, told The Detroit News. "I knew it was bad, and they probably had my baby at the hospital, because someone asked me if she had any allergies.
"Her blood was everywhere and I was trying to stay calm, but nobody would talk to me. None of them even tried to console me."
The officers had a search warrant and were looking for a 34-year-old man suspected in the shooting death of 17-year-old Jarean Blake. Officers arrested the suspect during the search, Godbee said.
Blake, a student at Southeastern High School, was gunned down Friday by a liquor store in front of his girlfriend. Blake stumbled across the street, collapsed and died, police said.
Godbee would not comment on newspaper reports that neighbors told police there were children in the house and showed them toys in the front yard. The girl's father said three other children besides Aiyana were in the house when the raid happened.
Charles Jones said he was trying not to be angry but wanted the story to be told. He said Aiyana was a lively child who loved to sing and had recently developed an interest in Hannah Montana and the Justin Bieber song "Baby."
"She was just figuring out what she liked, what she wanted to do with her life," her father said. "I want this story to be heard. This was a wrongful death."