NYTimes Reports on the Murder of Aiden Ellison

Black Teenager Is Fatally Shot in Argument Over Music, Police Say

The authorities in Ashland, Ore., said they were investigating whether the killing of Aiden Ellison after a confrontation in a hotel parking lot had been “driven by race.”

By Azi Paybarah

The Stratford Inn in Ashland, Ore., where the police said a teenager was fatally shot after another guest confronted him about loud music.Credit…Alamy

A Black teenager was shot and killed last week in Oregon by a white man who had confronted him in a hotel parking lot for playing loud music, the authorities said.

The shooting took place in the early-morning hours of Nov. 23 at the Stratford Inn in Ashland, Ore., about 180 miles south of Eugene, the police said.

A guest at the inn, Robert Paul Keegan, 47, left his room because he thought someone was playing music too loudly in the lot outside, according to the police. After an argument, Mr. Keegan, who is white, “pulled a gun from his coat and fired a single shot” into the victim’s chest, the police said in a statement.

“Ashland Fire and Rescue responded to the scene to attempt to render aid, however the man was beyond help,” the police said.

Chief Tighe O’Meara of the Ashland Police Department identified the victim as Aiden Ellison, 19, though a friend and a woman who answered the phone at Ashland High School, where Mr. Ellison was a student, said his first name was Aidan, with two A’s.

Chief O’Meara said the department was looking into whether the shooting “was driven by race,” adding that a racial motive had not been “legally substantiated.”

Three days after the killing, Chief O’Meara issued a statement seeking to clarify remarks attributed to him in some news accounts of the shooting.

“It has been reported in some local media sources that I said this murder was ‘because of’ something,” he said. “The only thing that caused this murder was suspect’s actions, 100 percent.”

“This did not happen because of loud music,” he added. “It happened because the suspect chose to bring a gun with him and chose to use it, 100% on him, not the poor young man that was murdered.”

He also told CNN the shooting was “utterly senseless.”

“Didn’t need to happen,” he said. “People getting violent with each other for such stupid reasons.”

Mr. Keegan was arrested at the scene and was charged with second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, unlawful possession of a weapon and recklessly endangering another person, according to court records. (Prosecutors said the endangerment charge was filed because a hotel clerk was nearby at the time of the shooting.)

Mr. Keegan was being held without bail in the Jackson County Jail, according to jail records.

Benjamin Lull, a deputy Jackson County district attorney, said the killing was still being investigated and declined to discuss it in detail.

In a statement, he said that his office had “no information (at this point) on what (if any) songs were being played by Mr. Ellison,” and that he was “not yet able to comment on what role race may (or may not) have played in the homicide at this point.”

Mr. Lull said Mr. Keegan did not have a lawyer assigned to his case. Telephone and email messages sent to Mr. Keegan’s relatives were not returned.

Mr. Keegan had been staying at the Stratford Inn since being displaced by the Almeda Fire in September, Chief O’Meara said.

TzadhiI Masji Burt, 19, said that he was close friends with Mr. Ellison and that they had both experienced homelessness in Ashland. On occasion, they would stay together whenever one of them found suitable housing, Mr. Burt said.

Mr. Ellison, he said, “was just the most selfless person.”

The killing of Mr. Ellison recalled a similar shooting in Florida exactly eight years earlier. On Nov. 23, 2012, Jordan Davis, 17, was shot and killed as he sat in a friend’s S.U.V. in a parking lot outside a convenience store in Jacksonville. Prosecutors said a white man, Michael Dunn, 46, who was parked next to them, asked them to turn down their music and they declined.

Mr. Dunn pulled a 9-millimeter pistol from his glove compartment and fired it 10 times. Mr. Davis was hit three times and died in the car. The other passengers were not struck.

At his trial, Mr. Dunn testified that he fired only after Mr. Davis pointed a shotgun at him. However, no shotgun was ever found and witnesses say they never saw one. In 2014, a jury rejected Mr. Dunn’s self-defense claim and convicted him of first-degree murder.

Four years later, Mr. Davis’s mother, Lucy McBath, was elected to Congress, representing a district just north of Atlanta.

Azi Paybarah is a reporter covering breaking news, based in New York. Before joining The Times in 2018 he covered politics for WNYC and The New York Observer. He helped launch the website that later became Politico New York and co-founded the FAQ NYC podcast. He is a lifelong New Yorker and graduate of the University at Albany