An Oregon man has been accused of fatally shooting a Black man following an argument over the 19-year-old playing loud music in a hotel parking lot days before Thanksgiving.
Robert Paul Keegan, 47, allegedly walked up to the man’s vehicle in the early-morning hours of Nov. 23, and began arguing about the volume of the music from the 19-year-old’s car, according to statements from the Ashland Police Department. Then, police allege Keegan, who is white, pulled a gun from his coat pocket and shot the man once in the chest, fatally wounding him in the parking lot of the Stratford Inn in Ashland, Ore.
First responders attempted to revive Ellison at around 4:20 a.m., but police said he was “beyond help” and pronounced him dead at the scene.
Officials have not publicly named the Oregon victim, but local activists and friends have identified him as Aidan Ellison, a 19-year-old Black man.
Keegan, who was arrested last week, pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, unlawful possession of a firearm, and reckless endangering on Friday, according to court records. Keegan does not yet have a defense attorney listed in court records.
The fatal shooting rocked the small southern Oregon community near Ashland, which had no homicides before the alleged murder last week.
The circumstances of the fatal shooting closely resemble another that occurred exactly eight years earlier. On Nov. 23, 2012, 17-year-old Jordan Davis was shot and killed by Michael Dunn, a 45-year-old white man, at a gas station in Jacksonville, Fla. Like Ellison, Davis, who was Black, had been listening to music in his car when the older, white man confronted him over the volume. Dunn was convicted of first-degree murder in 2014 and sentenced to life without parole.
A close friend of Ellison’s told KMVU that the victim had been homeless, at times staying with friends and moving from place to place in the Ashland, Ore., area. Police said Ellison was a guest at the Stratford Inn on the morning he died.
Keegan had been staying at the hotel with his 3-year-old son after being displaced by the Almeda Drive wildfire, the Ashland police chief told CNN. He did not know Ellison, police said.
More than 50 people came together in the Stratford Inn parking lot on Thanksgiving to memorialize Ellison.
“He had nothing, but yet even if he had something he would give it to you no questions asked,” friend Sunmoon Oh told KMVU on Thursday.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Ashland Police Chief Police Chief Tighe O’Meara emphasized that police believe the blame lies with the shooter, not the young man who had been playing music in his car.
“The only thing that caused this murder was the suspect’s actions,” O’Meara said in a statement on Facebook on Thanksgiving Day. “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.”
Local activists suggested race may have played a factor in the deadly incident. A group called Southern Oregon Black Leaders, Activists, and Community Coalition noted that Black people make up less than 2 percent of Ashland’s population of more than 21,000. The group reflected on the history of racism in the region that has had ties to white supremacist groups.
“The murder of Aidan Ellison is another example of Southern Oregon’s racist history with and current practice of white supremacy,” the group said in a statement on Facebook. “To be clear Aidan was murdered because he was a young Black person who made a white man uncomfortable and refused to submit to that man’s personally-perceived authority — not because he was listening to music too loudly.”
Keegan is being held in the Jackson County Jail without bail, and his next court appearance is set for Feb. 22, 2021, according to court records.