Family demands accountability for NY police killing of 13-year-old boy. Police said he aimed BB gun

This combination of images released by the Utica Police Department shows a replica of a Glock 17 Gen 5 handgun recovered after an officer fatally shot a 13-year-old boy who had been tackled to the ground after he ran from police and pointed the replica gun at them on Friday, June 28, 2024, in Utica, N.Y. (Utica, N.Y., Police Department via AP)

On Wednesday, Nyah Mway finished middle school in the central New York city where his family moved about a decade ago as refugees from Myanmar, relatives said.

By Friday night, the 13-year-old was fatally shot by police who’d tackled him to the ground after he allegedly pointed what turned out to be a BB gun at them during a foot chase.

Struggling to comprehend his death, his anguished relatives and outraged members of their immigrant community called Sunday for justice for him and accountability for police.

“We came to the United States, finally, to get the education and to get the good jobs here” and hoping for a peaceful life after decades of strife and violence in Myanmar, said Lay Htoo, who identified himself as one of Nyah's cousins.

But instead of celebrating the teen's ascent to high school, his parents were waiting for medical examiners to release his body and wondering what would become of the officers.

“They want them to be in prison forever,” the cousin said in a phone interview.

As the state attorney general and the Utica Police Department investigate the shooting, Nyah's relatives and other local members of Myanmar's Karen ethnic minority said they planned to meet Sunday afternoon with Utica Mayor Michael P. Galime. A message seeking comment was sent to the mayor’s office.

For now, the officers are on paid administrative leave.

The shooting happened Friday night in Utica, an old industrial city where thousands of refugees from various countries have settled in recent decades, creating a measure of revival in a faded Rust Belt hub. The city's population of 65,000 includes more than 4,200 people from Myanmar, according to The Center, a nonprofit group that helps to resettle refugees.

According to police, Nyah and another 13-year-old boy were stopped Friday night because they fit descriptions of suspects in an armed robbery that had happened Thursday in the same area, and because one teen was jaywalking. The police department declined Sunday to release the armed robbery report and its suspect description, citing the ongoing investigation.

The body camera video shows an officer saying he needs to pat them down for any weapons. Then one of the teens — identified as Nyah — runs away, turns and appears to point a black item at them.

The officers believed it was a handgun, police said, but it was later determined to be a BB or pellet gun that closely resembled a Glock 17 Gen 5 handgun with a detachable magazine. Police released an image showing the device did not have an orange band on the barrel that many BB gun-makers have added in recent years to distinguish their products from firearms.

Officer Bryce Patterson caught up with Nyah, tackled and punched him, and as the two wrestled on the ground, Officer Patrick Husnay opened fire, body camera video showed. Utica Police Chief Mark Williams said at a news conference Saturday that the single shot hit the youth in the chest.

A bystander video posted to Facebook also showed an officer tackling the teen and punching him as two other officers arrive, then a gunshot ringing out as the teen was on the ground.

Under New York law, the attorney general’s office looks into every death at the hands of law enforcement. The police department's own probe will explore whether officers followed policies and training.

Williams called the shooting “a tragic and traumatic incident for all involved, and his department said it released information and the body camera video in keeping with “our commitment to transparency.”

To Nyah's cousin, Isabella Moo, however, the police narrative seemed like “trying to criminalize him a lot more and trying to protect the police officers."

“The escalation of this should not have happened, and our police officers need to be trained a lot better or a lot differently,” she said in a phone interview. “The city needs to be held accountable, and this should not have been done to any child.”

Karens are among groups warring with the military rulers of Myanmar, the Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma. The army ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021 and suppressed widespread nonviolent protests that sought a return to democratic rule.

Nyah's family fled about two decades ago from Myanmar to Thailand, where he was born in a refugee camp, and then immigrated through a resettlement program to the United States about nine years ago, Htoo said. He said the teen's father works at a convenience store.

Htoo said Nyah was keen on math, soccer and spending time with friends when not caring for his younger siblings. Interested in learning, he sometimes attended Bible study with his friends, though his family are Buddhists, the cousin said.

The cousin said he'd been told that on Friday night, the boy informed his mother he was going to a store to buy something, and that was the last she saw of him.

She hasn't slept since, except for 10-minute naps, her tears resuming every time she awakens, he said.