HOUMA, La., Sept. 25 (UPI) -- A 14-year-old Louisiana honor student was shot and killed by a Terrebonne Parish Sheriff patrolman Tuesday in an incident police are calling a "freak accident" but that the teen's family blamed on a "mentality to kill."
Cameron Tillman was shot around 6 p.m. after patrolmen responded to a call of several armed people entering an abandoned house in Houma, La.
According to Terrebone Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, the deputy shot Cameron when he opened the door holding a BB gun pointed at him.
The deputy "feared for his life," Larpenter said, and shot Cameron four times in the front part of his body.
An unidentified weapon was recovered "in close proximity" to Cameron's body, police said. Two juveniles and an 18-year-old were taken into custody, and a fourth teen was wanted after escaping out the back of the house.
"I don't think he knew police officers were there," Larpenter said. "I think he was expecting to open the door to his friends."
Larpenter said part of the confusion was that the patrolmen parked several houses down so Cameron and his friends could not see the police from inside.
"They looked an saw there was no police outside the door and they assumed that was their friends," Larpenter said. "The deputies were going there thinking they were going to catch someone with weapons at the house."
"My personal opinion, I think it was a freak accident, and I think the evidence will show that," Larpenter said. "I think it is a tragedy with this young man who I heard nothing but good things about."
But Cameron's friends and family, including his older brother who was at the scene, were not so ready to accept the sheriff's official explanation.
"My little brother thought somebody was just clowning, because somebody is always clowning by the door," Andre Tillman, Cameron's brother, said. "He opened (it) and the man just shot him. He didn't have nothing in his hand."
Unlike other recent incidents of young, black men killed by police, race is not thought to be involved. Cameron was black, but so is the unnamed deputy who shot him. Sheriff's spokeswoman Dawn Foret said the officer is a seven-year veteran of the patrol division, a field training officer and member of the SWAT team.
Instead, the family says, the officer had a "mentality to kill."
"They heard a knock at the door. The police didn't identify themselves. They just thought it was one of their friends," said Comeako Tillman, Cameron's aunt. "The mentality was to kill... he started shooting when Cam opened the door."
Cameron was described as a "timid and respectful" teen and a "tremendous athlete," according to Ellender high school teacher Michael Legarde.
Legarde, also a family friend of the Tillmans, said Cameron had decided to take his freshman year off of sports to focus on his studies.
"He had heard all the hype about high school and just wanted to concentrate on his grades for the first year," Legarde said.
Added Josh Miles, Cameron's cousin: "He stayed out of trouble. He was just a good kid. I told the sheriff that as scared as he was, he'd never point anything at anybody."
The Tillman family has said it plans to take legal action over the police handling of the incident. Louisiana State Police are investigating, at the behest of the Terrebonne Sheriff's Office.