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Update: The Atlantic issues correction on article about a cop shooting a kid – it never happened


Update: The Atlantic has issued several corrections to last week’s eyebrow-raising piece about a St. Louis-area police officer shooting a kid at a rec center because the kid refused to sign in.

Mind you, there’s no official “correction” notice or apology. The details within the story have just been very quietly changed.

Those very notable changes however include:

  1. It was not a cop who shot a kid and got away with it – the premise of the story about abolishing police.
  2. It now reads that it was a security guard.
  3. The author claimed she was 12 at the time of the incident, now it reads she was 13.
  4. Reports now indicate the security guard was arrested. The original piece indicated the police officer suffered no consequences.

After the story, in the footnotes, you can finally find an actual correction: An earlier version of this article described the shooter as “a cop.” In fact, he was an armed, uniformed security guard working at the municipal recreation center, employed by a security company under contract with the city of St. Louis. In addition, the author was 13, not 12, at the time of the incident.

Sean Davis of the Federalist wrote, “you falsely claimed a cop shot a kid and nothing happened to him. In reality, it wasn’t a cop, a kid wasn’t shot, and the shooter was arrested,” added Sean Davis, co-founder of the magazine.

The original story was unraveled by The Federalist Editor-In-Chief Ben Domenech.


A lawyer and social justice activist is being lauded for a story she had published in The Atlantic, a gripping tale that recounted witnessing a St.Louis-area police officer shoot a young boy for refusing to sign-in at a rec center.

Titled “How I Became A Police Abolitionist,” the story -written by Derecka Purnell- has many qualities, but one glaring fault: it may have never happened.

Derecka Purnell. Credit: Twitter

Purnell, who attended UC Berkeley and now writes for the British tabloid, The Guardian, claims the incident -which involved a police officer and his cousin- occurred when she was twelve years old

“I was 12,” she wrote. “He was angry that his cousin skipped a sign-in sheet at my neighborhood recreation center. I was teaching my sister how to shoot free throws when the officer stormed in alongside the court, drew his weapon, and shot the boy in the arm. My sister and I hid in the locker room for hours afterward.”

The boy in question reportedly suffered from a shattered bone, and the officer was said to be back on the force within a week.

Her description of her neighborhood at the time of the incident -apparently some time between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq- paints a dystopian, impoverished, dark landscape, marred by discarded remnants of society and pollution.

“Our neighborhood made us sick,” she wrote. “A Praxair industrial gas-storage facility was at one end of my block. A junkyard with exposed military airplane and helicopter parts was at the other. The fish-seasoning plant in our backyard did not smell as bad as the yeast from the Budweiser factory nearby. Car honks and fumes from Interstate 70 crept through my childhood bedroom window, where, if I stood on my toes, I could see the St. Louis arch.”

However, a study of the area by staff at The Federalist reveals a much larger “game map” of sorts than the tight-quarters picture Purnell paints.

Even without an exact time frame or address, many similar, albeit far less sinister locations exist within 3/4 of a mile of each other- but nowhere near I-70 (Interstate 64, however, was nearby). Similarly, the Budweiser factory is over two miles away.

It as at this point, really, that Purnell’s story begins to wear at the seams. Once the details emerge, however, it quickly unravels. 

The nearest recreation center within the triangulated area, the Buder Recreation Center, had nearly two dozen calls for police response between 2001 and 2003. None involved a shooting, with the exception of an attempted suicide.

Even St.Louis officials seemed puzzled by the account.

“I’m a little bit at a loss for words here because the shooting of a young boy by a cop in a St. Louis rec center, even if it had happened 20 years ago, I feel like that would be in my mind somewhere,” mayoral spokesman and former reporter Jacob Long told The Federalist. “That does not sound remotely familiar, and I’m from here … I was here in 2001, 2002, 2003.”

Yoni Appelbaum, The Atlantic’s editor of the Ideas section, has yet to confirm that the story has been fact-checked, though Purnell claimed The Atlantic had “found it.”

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