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Michael Brown shooting: What we know and the questions that remain

Basic facts about the shooting death of Michael Brown remain unclear. And information released by police Friday may have raised more questions than it answered.
Demonstrators hold candles and signs, Aug. 14, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo.
Demonstrators hold candles and signs, Aug. 14, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo.

Update, 3:20 p.m. ET: Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson gave a followup press conference, in which he revealed that the officer who ultimately shot and killed Brown did not know the teen was a suspect in an alleged robbery at a convenience store. "I know his initial contact was not related to the robbery it was related to blocking the road," Jackson said.

That raises among the biggest questions of the controversy: Why did Ferguson police release a police report Friday morning on the robbery, naming Brown as the "prime suspect"? Asked that question by a reporter at the press conference, Jackson replied: "Because you asked for it."

Update, 7:00 p.m. ET: Chief Jackson presented a slightly different account early Friday evening, telling NBC News that while the police officer who shot Brown initially stopped him for walking in the street and blocking traffic, "at some point" during the encounter the officer saw cigars in Brown's hands and thought he might be a suspect in the robbery. 

Ferguson, Missouri Police Chief Thomas Jackson bowed to growing public pressure Friday morning by naming the officer who shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown last weekend. And a police report released Friday offered details about Brown's alleged involvement in a convenience store robbery Saturday, not long before the shooting.

But neither Jackson nor the report shed any real light on the immediate circumstances of the shooting itself. Six days after it happened—and amid a barrage of national news coverage—basic facts about the incident remain unclear. And for many Ferguson residents, the information released Friday seemed to raise more questions than it answered.

Here's what we now know and don't know about the circumstances of Brown's death.

What we know:

  • The officer who killed Brown after a sidewalk altercation was Darren Wilson, who is white. He has been on the police force for six years, with no record of disciplinary action taken against him, according to Jackson. Wilson is currently on paid administrative leave. 
  • According to the police report (PDF), Wilson was responding to a description provided by police dispatch searching for a suspect in a convenience-store robbery nearby.
  • Also according to the report, video surveillance from the store allegedly showed Brown and a friend, Dorian Johnson, in an altercation with a store employee. The report also alleges that Brown stole cigars from the store. And a lawyer for Johnson, Freeman Bosley, said in an interview that Johnson told investigators that Brown did take the cigars.
  • The most vivid account of the shooting itself was given by Johnson, who told msnbc that he and Brown were walking toward Johnson’s house Saturday when a police officer in a car shouted at them to “get the f—k on the sidewalk.” Johnson said after the two kept walking, a confrontation ensued, during which the officer said, "I'm gonna shoot you," shortly before opening fire. After Johnson and Brown took off running, the officer shot Brown again, this time in the back, before firing several more shots at him. Johnson said at no point did Brown try to reach for the officer's gun, as police have alleged.
  • A second eyewitness, Tiffany Mitchell, has said Brown was trying to pull away while an officer attempted to pull him into the car when a shot was fired from inside the car. That raises the question of whether a second officer was involved.
  • The U.S. attorney's office has launched a civil rights investigation into the shooting. The FBI is also investigating, as is the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney. 
  • A lawyer for Brown's family, Ben Crump, has said he wants a second autopsy performed by the Justice Department on Brown's body. 

What we don't know:

  • What led Wilson to suspect that Brown and Johnson had been involved in a robbery? When police approached the two men on the street, were they looking to question them about it? (See update above. Jackson now says that the stop had nothing to do with the alleged robbery.)
  • Given that Brown was unarmed, why did Wilson draw his weapon in the first place? Was there any reason for Wilson to believe his safety was in serious jeopardy?
  • If Johnson's account is accurate, why did Wilson shoot Brown in the back as he ran away? And how many times was he shot?
  • Why did it take police six days to reveal Brown and Johnson's alleged involvement in a robbery, an incident that they say triggered the sequence of events leading to Brown's death?
  • Why did Jackson, the police chief, tell a journalist Tuesday that Brown wasn't being questioned as a suspect in a crime when he was stopped?
  • Why did it take police until Wednesday to interview Johnson?
  • Why does the Ferguson Police Department have military weaponry but says it can't afford to install dashboard cameras on its cars, which could have helped get answers about what happened to Brown?
  • Why won't authorities release details of the autopsy report performed by the county on Brown's body?  

It will likely take a full and professional investigation by state and federal authorities to get answers to many of these questions. But until more questions are answered, the ongoing tension and anger in the St. Louis suburb isn't likely to go away.