When a 16-year-old girl was shot and killed while working at a Burger King drive-thru in Milwaukee earlier this month, the horrific news reverberated around the nation. Tens of thousands of dollars in donations poured in and Niesha Harris-Brazell's devastated family wondered how she could be taken "in the blink of an eye."
But after spending two weeks piecing together events, investigators have made the bombshell allegation in court documents that Harris-Brazell was killed in a botched robbery that she had staged with her best friend and her best friend's father.
That evening, a black Chevy Impala pulled up to the drive-thru window, according to surveillance footage cited by authorities in a criminal complaint. Harris-Brazell turned to serve the supposed customer, when the driver pulled a gun, demanding cash.
The surveillance footage showed Harris-Brazell back away and start to pull money from a register while apparently signaling for help from her colleagues. The driver, with the hood of his red jacket pulled low over his masked face, then hoisted himself through the window, waving a gun with one hand, and reaching for cash with the other, the court documents state.
But the assailant then suddenly withdrew from the window and back into his car without the cash, before speeding off. At the same moment, Harris-Brazell fell to the ground from a gunshot.
"After I heard the shots go off, I ran to the front and I see my best friend on the floor just laying there saying she got shot," Mariah Edwards told FOX6 in the days after.
Harris-Brazell was rushed to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Investigators initially assumed that the hooded man in the window fired the shots that killed Harris-Brazell. But a closer look at the video footage showed that the gun he was waving was never fired, authorities said.
As outlined in the court documents, another camera mounted inside the restaurant revealed that the shots were fired from within the Burger King.
As the robbery unfolded and Harris-Brazell called for help, her co-worker, Derrick Ellis , 34, was quick to respond. A criminal complaint filed four days after the shooting alleged that Ellis pulled out a gun, took aim at the thief, and fired two shots. It appears that Harris-Brazell was caught in the crossfire.
According to court documents, surveillance footage captured Ellis apparently panicking as he scrambled to gather the fired casings from the floor of the restaurant afterwards. He was filmed running to the restaurant's manager, who helped him stow the weapon in the store's safe.
Ellis then fled the restaurant and has not been seen since. He has been charged with murder. The Burger King manager allegedly told police that Ellis hid the weapon and fled because he's a convicted felon who isn't allowed to possess a gun.
Investigators say they then ascertained that the driver of the Impala was Antoine Edwards, whose daughter Mariah was working in the Burger King at the time. According to a criminal complaint, Mariah allegedly confessed that she, her father, and Harris-Brazell coordinated the robbery at a time when they expected the register to be loaded with cash.
According to a complaint, Mariah claimed that they got Harris-Brazell involved because she works the drive-thru window while Mariah works in the kitchen. It was never part of the plan, however, for Ellis, the co-worker who allegedly shot Harris-Brazell, to come to their aid.
Though Mariah claimed to police that all three participated in the scheme, Antoine Edwards allegedly claimed that his daughter wasn't involved, and insisted Harris-Brazell was his only accomplice.
The father and daughter have been arrested, and a criminal complaint charged Antoine with felony murder, intentionally contributing to the delinquency of a child with death as a consequence, and possession of a firearm by a felon.
Harris-Brazell's mom, Liceal Brazell, remained defiant that her daughter wasn't involved in the scheme that took her life. On Friday, she told FOX6, "It's really making me mad, it's making me angry. You told so many different lies, now you're going to tell more lies. That's not going to help you. That's not going to help your father."
Harris-Brazell's sister established a GoFundMe to help support the family that has raised over $40,000. Her grandmother, Ida Lane, told FOX6, "Here we are trying to raise a self-sufficient, independent young lady and she's taken away from us in the blink of an eye."
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