At first, police believed it was a terrible, self-inflicted mishap.
It happened April 15, just after the funeral held for a San Francisco man who'd succumbed to diabetes. Mourners were gathered in the Western Addition home of Tamesha Tobie's grandmother, Edna Tobie. Tamesha, a 14-year-old first-year high schooler in town from Stockton for the funeral, was hanging out with two teenage boys, her cousins, in a bedroom a room where, it turns out, another family member had stashed a powerful .357 Magnum revolver. Suddenly, the house filled with the sound of the gun's pop.
Tobie's aunt was cooking in the kitchen. She rushed to find out what was going on. The two boys met her in the hallway and told her there was a gun; she found Tobie on the bed, not moving. Nearby lay the pistol, with five live rounds and a shell still visible in the cylinder under the hammer.
The family dialed 911, and soon the area was packed with uniforms. Paramedics arrived with the police, as did a media flack who expected reporters, a crisis response team from the health department, the local medical examiner, and Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, whose district includes Edna Tobie's Oak Street home.
"These are vivid experiences you don't lose," Mirkarimi said. "The gut-wrenching part is that it was a young girl."
Fox, CBS, the Associated Press, and the San Francisco Chronicle all reported what the cops told them: Tamesha Tobie had accidentally shot herself with the gun.
But it turns out that wasn't true. In fact, according to an autopsy completed by the medical examiner June 1, Tobie didn't pull the trigger.
Her death has become another in a long list of unsolved homicides in San Francisco and another sign that gun violence, both accidental and intentional, is raging out of control.
THE COPS DON'T KNOW
Months after the killing, the San Francisco Police Department didn't seem aware that Tobie's death was anything but an accident.
When we contacted the SFPD's press office early in September, the staffers weren't aware that her death had been ruled a homicide, nor was Lt. John Murphy, head of the homicide unit. Department spokesperson Sgt. Neville Gittens even requested that the Guardian fax him a copy of the report.
Now the SFPD acknowledges that Tobie was a homicide victim. "We believe it was done at the hands of someone else," Gittens said a week after receiving the report.
A homicide inspector assigned to the case said he learned of the medical examiner's final report two weeks ago but explained that he'd already regarded Tobie's death as suspicious.
Inspector Mike Johnson said he thinks one of the two cousins in the room with Tobie fired the weapon. Police have also concluded that the gun was used in an unrelated San Francisco homicide a few months prior by another young family member before being hidden in the home of Tobie's grandmother.
Nobody has been arrested in that case either. Despite the fact that this gun has now been used to kill at least two people, Johnson conceded that not enough evidence exists to make an arrest in the first murder, even though a suspect has been identified an exasperating fact for a city already near last year's total of 85 murders.
If nothing else, the gun's owner could possibly be guilty of negligence or child endangerment but no charges are pending.
"The capacity of government not to do something about this at the pace that it is rocketing is what is absolutely alarming," said Mirkarimi, who's pushed the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice to provide better data on violent crime in the city, "because it's not going to abate itself....