A 47-year-old man in Oregon has been charged with murder in the Nov. 23 shooting death of a Black teenager in a hotel parking lot.
Police said Robert Paul Keegan, who is white, had approached the 19-year-old around 4:30 a.m. as he sat in his car outside the Stratford Inn in Ashland, Oregon. Keegan began arguing with the teen about the volume of the music he was playing inside his car.
Keegan then pulled a gun from his coat and fired a single shot into the teen’s chest, killing him, police said. After arriving at the scene, first responders attempted to render aid to the victim but he was “beyond help,” the Ashland Police Department said in a statement.
Police have not released the name of the slain teen, but friends and local activists have identified him as Aidan Ellison. Keegan and Ellison did not know each other, police said.
Ellison had moved into the hotel after losing his job due to the Almeda fire in September, local ABC affiliate KDRV-TV reported. The wildfire burned down the Burger King where he had reportedly worked.
Keegan, who had been staying at the hotel with this 3-year-old son after being displaced by the wildfire, pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges of second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, unlawful possession of a firearm and reckless endangering, according to court records.
He is being held in Jackson County Jail without bail. His next court appearance has been scheduled for Feb. 21, 2021.
Keegan’s son has been turned over to a grandparent, police said.
Friends of Ellison described him as “kind” and someone who “just loved to laugh and have fun,” KDRV-TV reported.
“He’s just a good kid,” Sara Jones, Ellison’s friend, told the station. “He had his whole life ahead of him and it was just taken from him because some guy had a problem with a loud noise.”
But some community members and activists have said the shooting was racially motivated and compared it to the 2012 murder of Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida. Davis, a 17-year-old high school student, was gunned down at a gas station by Michael David Dunn, a 45-year-old white man.
Dunn had opened fire at the vehicle Davis was riding in along with three other teenage boys, killing Davis. Dunn was ultimately convicted of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of firing into a vehicle. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Ellison’s death marked the first homicide in Ashland this year, officials said.
“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,” Ashland Mayor-elect Julie Akins said in a statement Saturday.
“Aidan by all accounts was merely being, living his life,” she continued. “Now his life is gone. And with it comes yet another reminder of how deadly white privilege is.”
In a statement released on Thanksgiving, Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said the “horrendous murder” was “100%” a result of the suspect’s actions.
“It is completely immaterial what led up to it,” O’Meara said. “Yes, there was an argument over music, no, this did not happen because of loud music, it happened because the suspect chose to bring a gun with him and chose to use it, 100% on him, not the poor young man that was murdered.”