Third Austin-East teen shot, killed Tuesday night in three weeks

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KPD units at the scene of the shooting death of Janaria Muhammad, 15, on Feb. 16.

A teenage girl was shot and killed Tuesday night in East Knoxville, prompting an immediate and massive response from local authorities who have been battling unprecedented levels of gun-related violence in recent months.

The girl’s death marked the third time in three weeks that an Austin-East Magnet High School student has died from gunfire, and Knoxville city officials wasted no time in condemning the violence.

“Another teenage life has been cut short by gun violence in our city,” Mayor Indya Kincannon said in a statement issued just before midnight. “My heart is breaking for this young lady and her family as they deal with this devastating loss.”

Kincannon said that “leaders from across the city” will meet at 10 a.m. today at Paul Hogue Park “to discuss this case and our next steps forward.  This has to stop.”

The most recent victim “was found unresponsive, suffering from at least one gunshot wound near a residence in the 2500 block of Selma Avenue,” according to Knoxville Police Department spokesman Scott Erland.

Officers had responded to a report that someone had been shot off Cherry Street near the intersection with Selma Avenue about 7:40 p.m. and immediately began treating the girl’s wounds, Erland said. An ambulance soon arrived to rush her to a local hospital but she was pronounced dead shortly arrival. 

KPD confirmed Wednesday the victim was a 15-year-old freshman at Austin-East.

Her death came only four days after 16-year-old Austin East student Stanley Freeman Jr. was shot and killed.

The preliminary investigation indicates that Freeman was driving away from the school on his way to work at McDonalds when shots were fired in the area of Tarleton Avenue. He was struck by at least one round before fleeing the scene and crashing on Wilson Avenue.

Police don’t believe that Freeman was the intended target.

Surveillance video near the scene revealed that numerous individuals, most of whom appeared to be fellow Austin-East students, likely saw some or all of the shooting but no witnesses have come forward with information, according to KPD investigators. Police are encouraging the parents of Austin-East students to speak with their kids about what they might have witnessed or know about the shooting. 

Another Austin-East student, 15-year-old Justin Q. Taylor, was shot and killed on January 27. A 17-year-old boy has been charged with criminally negligent homicide for his death. 

The recent surge in violence comes on the heels of the bloodiest year in Knoxville’s history. No fewer than 37 people were killed within the city limits in 2020, breaking the previous record of 35 homicides in 1998.

Thus far in 2021, at least 11 men, women and children have been slain in Knoxville.

“Now more than ever, we need to band together as a community,” KPD Chief Eve Thomas said after Freeman’s death. “These senseless acts of violence cannot and should not be tolerated under any circumstances, and we all must work towards the common goal of holding the individuals who perpetuate this type of violence accountable for their actions.”

Anyone with relevant information about the shootings is asked to contact KPD by phone at 865-215-7212 or email at violentcrimes@knoxvilletn.gov.

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