Some of the accounts seem to agree on how the fatal altercation initially unfolded: with a struggle between the officer, Darren Wilson, and the teenager, Michael Brown. Officer Wilson was inside his patrol car at the time, while Mr. Brown, who was unarmed, was leaning in through an open window.
Many witnesses also agreed on what happened next: Officer Wilson’s firearm went off inside the car, Mr. Brown ran away, the officer got out of his car and began firing toward Mr. Brown, and then Mr. Brown stopped, turned around and faced the officer.
But on the crucial moments that followed, the accounts differ sharply, officials say. Some witnesses say that Mr. Brown, 18, moved toward Officer Wilson, possibly in a threatening manner, when the officer shot him dead. But others say that Mr. Brown was not moving and may even have had his hands up when he was killed.
The Times reports that Dorian Johnson, the man who was with Brown when the shots were fired, admitted to authorities that he and Brown had stolen cigarillos from the convenience store prior to the shooting. Authorities say someone called in a robbery report shortly before Officer Darren Wilson saw Brown and Johnson walking down the street, and he (Wilson) recognized the pair as fitting a description of the suspects.
Investigators say that the cop sustained injuries while sitting in his car talking through the window to the two men. Johnson says the officer put his hand out of the window to attempt to choke Brown, but multiple witnesses deny this (it would make no sense). Everybody agrees that the gun went off in the car. What kind of injuries did Wilson sustain? Were they from the gunshot, or was he struck by Brown? Surely that can be determined by now, right?
The key event is what happened when Brown gave up:
According to his account to the Ferguson police, Officer Wilson said that Mr. Brown had lowered his arms and moved toward him, law enforcement officials said. Fearing that the teenager was going to attack him, the officer decided to use deadly force. Some witnesses have backed up that account. Others, however — including Mr. Johnson — have said that Mr. Brown did not move toward the officer before the final shots were fired.
Brown was six or seven feet away when six shots were fired at him.
Was the officer ordering him to stop, and Brown wasn’t stopping? Had Brown punched the officer in his car, which would give Brown’s refusing to stop when ordered to stop (if that is what happened) added menace? Why six shots?
We aren’t going to know what really happened that night in Ferguson for some time. The haze of anger and the fog of war in the streets make clear sight impossible for now.
The reaction of the police after the shooting, in the face of protests, is a related but separate question.