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'He Had A Smile That Was Angelic. He Lit Up The Room': Remembering Daunte Wright

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The police officer who shot and killed Daunte Wright in a Minneapolis suburb has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. Kimberly Potter was arrested this morning. She resigned yesterday after 26 years with the Brooklyn Center Police Department. Authorities say it appears that Potter mistakenly grabbed her gun and fired it when she thought she was reaching for her taser. Wright, who was Black, was shot Sunday afternoon as he tried to escape from officers who were trying to arrest him. Wright leaves behind his mother, father, siblings and a toddler son. He was 20 years old. NPR's David Schaper has more in this profile of Daunte Wright.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The first thing everyone seems to mention when talking about Daunte Wright is his smile.

KATIE WRIGHT: And he had a smile that was angelic. He lit up the room.

SCHAPER: Daunte's mother, Katie Wright, at a vigil for her son Monday night.

WRIGHT: My heart is literally broken into a thousand pieces, and I don't know what to do or what to say. But I just need everybody to know that he is much more than this.

SCHAPER: In his freshman year at Thomas Edison High School in northeast Minneapolis, Daunte Wright was voted the class clown, according to a school yearbook. A mentor at the school recalls Daunte as fun, lively, the center of attention and having a welcoming personality. He says Wright had a bright future. He later attended Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis but did not graduate. Family and friends said he had hoped to earn a GED.

Wright's cousin, Mario Greer.

MARIO GREER: I didn't get the chance to tell my cousin I loved him, but I'm telling him I love him now.

SCHAPER: Greer says he can't imagine spending holidays without Daunte.

GREER: The Fourth of July - that's our favorite holiday together. We liked to shoot Roman candles at each other. We're not going to be able to - we're not going to be able to do that no more. I love you, Daunte.

SCHAPER: Wright leaves behind a 2-year-old son, Daunte Wright, Jr. The child's mother, Chyna Whitaker, was no longer seeing Wright, but she says his death leaves a huge void in her son's life.

CHYNA WHITAKER: And I just feel like that's so wrong because now my son - he don't have a dad. And I'm just so messed up about it because, like, I feel like they stole my son's dad from him.

SCHAPER: Daunte Wright was driving in a Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center Sunday afternoon. Officers stopped him just before 2 o'clock because he had expired tags on his license plates. Once pulled over, officers discovered Wright was wanted on an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court on misdemeanor charges of possessing a handgun without a permit and fleeing police. His mother, Katie Wright, says Daunte called her from the car, sounding nervous and scared. And what followed, she says, were the worst moments of her life.

WRIGHT: Daunte put the phone down. I heard some scruffling (ph). He got out of the car, and I could hear the police officers scruffling with him.

SCHAPER: Body cam video shows that as officers got him out of the car and tried to handcuff him, Wright broke free and got back in the vehicle to try to get away. Now-former police officer Kim Potter yelled a warning - taser, taser, taser - before firing her gun, hitting Wright once in the chest. He tried to drive away and got a couple of blocks before crashing. His mother frantically tried calling him back, and the girl he was with finally answered on FaceTime and screamed that Daunte had been shot.

WRIGHT: And then she pointed the phone towards the driver's seat, and my son was laying there unresponsive.

SCHAPER: That was the last time Katie Wright saw Daunte. Family members acknowledge it wasn't the best decision for Daunte to try to escape but says he posed no threat to the police and didn't deserve to die. Angie Goldson is Daunte's grandmother.

ANGIE GOLDSON: Daunte was a beautiful child. He might not have been an angel, but he was our angel.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Our angel.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: He belonged to us.

GOLDSON: He belonged to us.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Tell 'em, grandma.

GOLDSON: And he's going to be missed.

SCHAPER: Funeral arrangements for Daunte Wright are still pending.

David Schaper, NPR News, Minneapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.