Edward Crawford, the man featured in a Ferguson protest photograph throwing a tear gas canister back toward police, was found dead late Thursday, his father said. Police say it appears the death was from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Crawford’s father, Edward Sr., confirmed his son’s death to the Post-Dispatch. He said his son’s mother called him and they went together to the morgue early Friday to identify their son’s body. Crawford Sr. was in tears Friday as he spoke with a reporter.
The medical examiner’s office says the death of Edward S. Crawford Jr. was reported as a suicide at 11:46 p.m. Thursday. However, the official cause of death is pending the results of an autopsy. The shooting was in the 1400 block of Salisbury Street, in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood.
Crawford lived in the 7000 block of Dover Court in University City.
According to a police summary, Crawford was in the back seat of a car. Two women were in the car with him. The car was heading east on Salisbury, approaching Blair Avenue near Hyde Park, when the gun went off.
The women told police that Crawford had started talking about how distraught he was over “personal matters.” They heard him rummaging for something in the backseat, and the next thing they knew he shot himself in the head.
Crawford’s father, 52, said he believes it was an accidental shooting, not intentional. “I don’t believe it was a suicide,” he said. He said investigators weren’t saying much to him yet. “They’re being hush-hush,” the father said.
The case is being handled by district detectives, not homicide investigators.
Edward Crawford Sr. said he last saw his son two days ago; he was in good spirits, certainly not suicidal.
“He was wonderful, great, always in a good mood,” the father said. “He just got a new apartment and was training for a new job.”
He said his son was training for a job at a Schnucks warehouse.
The younger Crawford, 27, was the father of four children. “He loved them to death,” Crawford Sr. said.
In 2014, during the Ferguson protests, Crawford grabbed a smoking tear gas cylinder, fired by police at Ferguson protesters, and threw it back. In a photograph taken by Post-Dispatch photographer Robert Cohen, Crawford became an iconic image of the protests along West Florissant Avenue. Crawford found instant fame after coming forward as the man in the photograph.
The incident was part of protests on Aug. 12-13, 2014, near Chambers Road. The photograph was part of the Post-Dispatch’s coverage that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography in 2015.
For many, the act summed up the anger directed at police after the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown. It represented defiance against police aggression. He told the Post-Dispatch that throwing the canister wasn’t an act of rebellion, but an instinct.
“I didn’t throw a burning can back at police,” Crawford told the newspaper in August 2015, after the county counselor’s office cited Crawford under two county ordinances for interfering with a police officer and assault. “I threw it out of the way of children.”
The case is pending. A court date is set for later this month, County Counselor Peter Krane said.
Crawford’s lawyer, Jerryl Christmas, said he had a meeting with Crawford set for 4 p.m. Thursday to discuss plea negotiations on the pending charges of interfering with a police officer and assault stemming from August 2014 protests in Ferguson. But Crawford didn’t show.
The plea deal would have dropped Crawford’s charges in exchange for community service, Christmas said, but that Crawford “was adamant that he was not guilty” and wanted a trial. Christmas said he had no indication that Crawford was suicidal and is “suspicious” about his death.
“Edward was a very bright, energetic, young man and I think he had a wonderful future ahead of him,” Christmas said.
According to online court records, Crawford had other pending tickets for speeding in St. Louis County, excessive noise in St. Louis city, littering in Shrewsbury, driving on a revoked license and failure to have insurance in Maplewood and failure to register a vehicle in Pagedale.
After learning of his death Friday morning, Missouri Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, reflected on social media about what he had meant.
“He is #Ferguson’s hero,” the senator wrote on her Twitter account. “For those of us tear-gassed, he was our local champion.”
Chappelle-Nadal said she never met Crawford. But he became a symbol. “For him to throw it back, it was a rebellion … to say this is not right. We are gonna stand here and not be invisible.”
She said some people, locally and nationally, are living in desperate times with a feeling of hopelessness. She said the death is equally sad regardless of whether it was a suicide or accident.
— MariaChappelleNadal (@MariaChappelleN) May 5, 2017