A 17-year-old boy was fatally stabbed in Arizona by a man who said the rap music the victim was listening to made him feel "unsafe," the police said.
The victim, Elijah Al-Amin of Glendale, had finished work at a Subway sandwich shop and stopped at a Circle K convenience store in Peoria early Thursday morning, relatives said. He was standing at a soda machine around 1:45 a.m. when Michael Paul Adams, 27, who had been released from prison two days earlier, stabbed him in the back and slit his throat, witnesses told officers from the Peoria Police Department.
The two were not believed to have known each other, and witnesses reported that Adams did not say anything before the attack. Elijah fled the store, bleeding profusely, and collapsed in the parking lot, according to a probable cause statement. When emergency responders arrived, a witness was trying to stop the bleeding from his neck. He died at a hospital about 20 minutes later.
Adams simply walked out of the store after the encounter, much of which was caught on surveillance tape. The police found him nearby, stained with blood and carrying a folding pocket knife, and he admitted to the killing, according to the statement.
In a police interview, Adams, who is white, said that Elijah, who was multiracial, had been listening to rap music on his car radio before he entered the store, and that the music had made Adams feel threatened.
Adams said in the interview that rap music "makes him feel unsafe," because in the past he had been "attacked by people (blacks, Hispanics and Native American) who listen to rap music." According to the police statement, he said that "people who listen to rap music are a threat to him and the community."
Adams said that he had felt he "needed to be 'proactive rather than reactive' and protect himself and his community from the victim," it added.
Adams was charged with premeditated murder in the first degree.
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, was among those calling for the killing to be investigated by the Justice Department as a hate crime. On Twitter, people used the hashtag #JusticeforElijah as they expressed outrage and sadness.
Amanda Steele, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, said that state law did not allow for separate hate crimes charges, but that they could be used after conviction to argue for a more severe sentence.
Court documents show that Adams, who is listed as homeless, had been released from prison two days before the killing, after serving time for charges that included aggravated assault.
At Adams' initial court appearance, his lawyer, Jacie Cotterell, told the judge that Adams was mentally ill. Prosecutors also noted that he had several previous felony convictions and a history of unprovoked violence.
In court and in an interview with "Good Evening Arizona," Cotterell accused the Department of Corrections of releasing Adams without sufficient resources or supervision.
"He's been released into the world and left to fend for himself and two days later, this is where we are," she said in the interview.
The Department of Corrections said that Adams had not been designated as seriously mentally ill and was not on prescription medication at the time of his release. He was given contact information for social service providers, the department said.
"He was no longer under the department's legal jurisdiction and the department had no further legal authority over him," a spokesman, Bill Lamoreaux, said in a statement.
Adams was being held with bail set at $1 million.
In television interviews, Elijah's parents, Raheem Al-Amin and Serina Rides, struggled to make sense of the killing. They said the suspect's mental health was no excuse for such a heinous act.
"I don't care what somebody's hiding behind — mental illness?" Rides told the local Fox affiliate. "There's no excuse."
Elijah's father said in a phone interview that his son was quick to help others. He had recently expressed interest in hotel management, perhaps inspired by his paternal grandfather, who owned hotels.
"He was just a young, ambitious kid that wanted life to be better for himself and others around him," he said.
About his son's love of music, Al-Amin said Elijah liked rap artists who had a message, like Nipsey Hussle and Tupac Shakur.
The last time he saw his son was the night he died. Al-Amin had picked up Elijah's sister, who worked near the Subway, earlier that evening. He saw his son through the windows, cleaning up. Al-Amin spoke to him on the phone, teasingly asking him to bring back some cookies or a sandwich, but Elijah said he wanted to see his girlfriend after work.
Hours later, Al-Amin grew worried when his son had not returned home and was not answering his phone. He spent all night trying to find him, and learned that he had been killed around dawn.
Elijah would have turned 18 later this month.
Written by: Karen Zraick
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES