February 25, 1996
August 30, 2019
Age at Death:
Elijah McClain was a beloved brother and son. In remembering him, friends and family said that he was loved by “everybody who met him” and that he wanted to “change the world." He loved dancing and singing, taught himself to play the violin and guitar, and he was a massage therapist, a runner, and a vegetarian. He loved animals, and he would play his violin at a pet shop for kittens who did not have homes. He was smart, studious, independent, "known as a peaceful person," and his colleagues said that his motto was "always with gratitude." He was described as dancing "to the beat of his own drum," and he would give a "gratitude bow" when he entered and left a room. Another colleague said: “He was just an angel, an earthly angel. He would do anything to help out anybody and he would do anything to better his life. He was constantly trying to learn and grow his knowledge. He was inspired by everything and that inspired me.” Elijah left behind his five siblings and his mother.
On August 24, 2019, Elijah was bringing an iced tea home to his brother from the convenience store. Elijah was not armed and had not committed any crime.
The Aurora Police Department received a call about a "suspicious person" who looked "sketchy" and was waving his arms, and stated that when Elijah was approached he “resisted arrest.” Elijah was wearing a ski mask, as his family said he often did because he felt cold due to anemia, and he was listening to music using headphones that fit inside his ears. According to NPR, it was unclear if Elijah could hear the officers, and Elijah appeared "taken aback by their sudden appearance." When officers surrounded him, NPR reported that he "recoiled" and said, "I am an introvert. Please respect the boundaries that I am speaking." An officer was heard admitting that Elijah had done nothing illegal, and another accused Elijah of reaching for his gun. Police put Elijah in a carotid hold, which puts pressure on the carotid arteries to diminish blood flow to the brain, and first responders were called and injected him with ketamine. On the way to the hospital Elijah had a heart attack. He died six days later.
An online memorial was shared transcribing Elijah's last words from bodycam audio, spoken as officers were restraining him:
"I can't breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That's my house. I was just going home. I'm an introvert. I'm just different. That's all. I'm so sorry. I have no gun. I don't do that stuff. I don't do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don't even kill flies! I don't eat meat! But I don't judge people, I don't judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better. I will do it. I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity, I'll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful and I love you. Try to forgive me. I'm a mood Gemini. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Ow, that really hurt! You are all very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work. Oh, I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to do that. I just can't breathe correctly."
Was justice served?
The three officers who restrained Elijah McClain were put on administrative leave, but no charges were filed against them. Bodycam footage was not released until 3 months later. In February 2020, a critical incident review was opened. In June 2020, after public petitions and outcry for an investigation, a special prosecutor was assigned to investigate Elijah's death. Afterward, it was revealed that in October, three officers visited a memorial that had been set up in Elijah's memory and took photos smiling and reenacting a carotid control hold, according to the Interim Police Chief. News reported that the officers who took the photos were fired. At a June 27 protest and violin concert in Elijah's memory, police in riot gear moved into the crowd and used pepper spray.
In June, the police officers involved in the incident with Elijah were assigned to non-enforcement duties. As of January 2021, the officers have not been charged.