AUSTIN, Texas - Austin police are searching for a suspect who shot and killed a 16-year-old boy Tuesday night.
Officers said a call came in around 8:40 pm reporting a shooting in a Walgreens parking lot off Tech Ridge Boulevard near Parmer Lane. Police located the victim, 16-year-old Luke Kemper, who was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital about 30 minutes later.
Detectives are still trying to figure out what caused the shooting, but say so far the investigation leads them to believe it had to do with the purchase of a small amount of marijuana.
"Anytime someone loses their life it’s disturbing to us, but when you see they’re children it definitely strikes a heartstring," said Lt. Jeff Greenwalt with the Austin Police Department's homicide unit.
Police say the parking lot was not the actual scene of the crime. Kemper was shot two miles from there on Yarmont Way.
"The people who were with him we’re not completely honest with the Austin Police Department detectives as we were asking what happened in the circumstances surrounding Luke’s murder and that provided a significant delay in us locating the crime scene and finding evidence and identifying additional witnesses," Greenwalt said.
"We know, at this point in time, that it was some kind of a drug transaction, that a small amount of marijuana was being either purchased or sold and there may or may not have been some sort of robbery that was happening at the same time because of the drugs, which is, unfortunately, here in Austin, all too frequent of an occurrence," said Greenwalt.
Police said while they don't know the family dynamics of the children involved in Kemper's murder, their best advice to parents is this to pay attention.
"Be involved in your children’s life, know who their friends are, know what they’re doing and make sure that if there’s a problem or a concern that their children have, that they are trusting their parents to come to them and talk to them," Greenwalt said.
This is the 36th homicide in Austin in 2020 with three months still to go. Last year, there were 36 homicides for the entire year, 28 by this time, an increase of eight or just under 29 percent.
In response to the 2020 homicide rate, Austin Mayor Steve Adler wrote, “While homicides are going up in most big cities across the country, Austin still has one of the lowest homicide rates among those cities. We are still concerned about any increases and will remain focused on keeping Austin safe.”
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said more needs to be done to stop violent crime rates from rising.
"One homicide's too much. There are some medium-sized cities in the country that have zero, or maybe one or two. So is the mayor right saying that we're a safe city? For the most part, but we're going in the wrong direction," said Casaday.
In 2019, police detectives told Fox 7 Austin the majority of recent homicide cases in the city happened during drug deals, and most of those involved marijuana. The department said they are looking into whether that is the case again in 2020.
Casaday believes it's a combination of that as well as softer penalties, less proactive policing, and fewer detectives available to investigate cases.
"The people in our department that deal with subjects like that, from the organized crime division, have been sent back to patrol. And this is a much smaller group that's doing that type of work now. So I wouldn't be surprised if this trend continues just because we don't have enough people," Casaday said.
Detectives are asking anyone with information about Tuesday's shooting to call APD Homicide at 512-974-TIPS (8477), email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, use the anonymous Crime Stoppers tip line at 512-472-TIPS (8477) or use the Crime Stoppers App. You can also submit tips by downloading APD’s mobile app, Austin PD, free on iPhone and Android.
There is a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.