The robbery was staged, the victim was best friends with the suspect's daughter… and the shooter was an oblivious employee defending the restaurant, police say.
A teenager working at Burger King was shot dead during a robbery — but police do not believe the robber killed her.
According to statements made in a criminal complaint, 16-year-old Niesha Harris-Brazell was in on the heist, and was fatally shot by an unwitting armed colleague firing at the thief… who was her best friend’s dad.
On January 2, around 10:13 PM, Milwaukee police responded to a shooting at Burger King on W. Capitol Drive; upon arrival they found an employee, Harris-Brazell (pictured, above left), lying on the floor with gunshot wounds to the chest.
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She was rushed to hospital but died of her injuries. The coroner ruled it a homicide.
Checking the surveillance footage, investigators watched a Chevy Impala pull up to the drive-thru window at 10:05 PM after the restaurant had just closed; as staff were inside cleaning up, nobody was manning the window.
The driver raps on the window and a male juvenile employee opens it, says something briefly to the driver, and closes the window, as the car drove away. But three minutes later it circles around and pulls back up to the window; this time Harris-Brazell opens the window — and quickly backs away.
She begins emptying the register of cash and stands there holding it while shouting back at her colleagues, but does not approach the window. 40 seconds later, the driver gets out of his car, armed with a semiautomatic pistol, and begins climbing through the open window. For the next 22 seconds, with his body halfway through the window, he waves the gun at her gesturing at the money, but she stays motionless, calling back into the restaurant.
Suddenly, she falls to the ground and the robber pulls himself back out the window and flees in his car; the victim “remains on the floor, rolling about, bleeding, and crying out.”
“It does not appear that the Impala driver’s gun ever discharged, since there is no muzzle flash or smoke, no cartridge casing is ejected, and there is no motion consistent with the recoil of a gun,” the report states.
The shooter, police believe, was fellow employee Derrick Ellis. During the standoff, other cameras show the manager calling to Ellis, and Ellis peering around the corner to see the armed thief halfway through the window.
“Ellis reaches around the door with a pistol and fires towards the drive-thru window,” the report states. “Muzzle flashes come from Ellis’s gun, and casings can be seen being ejected from it. [Harris-Brazell] was standing between Ellis and the Impala driver, in the line of fire.”
Bullet holes around the window also point to Ellis as the sole fatal gunman. “Nothing was found to suggest that the Impala driver fired his gun.”
But the case was to take another, even more bizarre twist.
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During the follow-up investigation, police arrested Antoine Edwards (pictured, above right) as the driver of the Impala, and discovered his 16-year-old daughter Mariah Edwards was working at the Burger King on the night of the botched robbery.
She would later tell investigators she was the victim’s best friend — and that all three had planned the heist together.
Mariah Edwards initially gave a witness statement and never mentioned her father, and even spoke to televised press about the tragic incident.
But after police identified her as a suspect, she was re-interviewed, where she admitted she had lied, they said.
“She now admitted that the robbery was staged to steal money and she was in on the plan,” the criminal complaint says. “She said that the victim, NHB, was her best friend. The Impala driver, the defendant, Antoine Edwards, was her father.”
She told detectives that a few days before the incident, all three had planned for her father to come to the drive-thru window and stage a robbery at closing time when the register was likely to have lots of money.
Harris-Brazell normally worked at the window, while Edwards was stationed in the kitchen, so her friend was to be the one to hand over the cash.
Ellis, she said, was not in on the plot.
On the night of the robbery, she said she saw her dad the first time he drove up, went back into the hallway and called him on his phone to make sure it was him; he confirmed, and told her he would pull back around. She said Harris-Brazell was with her during the call.
But things obviously didn’t go according to plan. She admitted to police that it was never planned for her father to climb through the window; she believes Harris-Brazell didn’t immediately hand over the cash because she panicked, recalling how her friend yelled “He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun!”
After interviewing Edwards’ father, police said his statement matched hers — except he “insulates his daughter from involvement.”
“… although he planned the robbery over the phone by calling his daughter’s phone, his daughter immediately handed the phone over to NHB, and the plan was made between himself and NHB, without input or involvement from his daughter,” the statement reads.
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He admitted to police on the night of the robbery, he borrowed the Impala from its owner and removed the license plates.
During the staged robbery, he said Harris-Brazell did not hand over the money as planned and “was taking too long,” so he crawled partway into the window.
That’s when he said someone inside the building opened fire, and he pulled a hasty retreat.
Antoine Edwards, who has previous convictions for burglary, is now charged with Felony murder, Intentionally contributing to the delinquency of a child and death is consequence, and Possession of a firearm by a felon.
Mariah Edwards has also been arrested, but it is not yet clear what charges she will face.
However, speaking to Fox 6, Harris-Brazell’s mother Liceal Brazell claimed the father and daughter are lying to try to save their own skin.
“It’s really making me mad, it’s making me angry. You told so many different lies, now you’re going to tell more lies,” she said. “That’s not going to help you. That’s not going to help your father.”
“Why would she do that? She didn’t need no money.”
“But my God is good, and he will make sure everything comes to light. And I really feel that,” she added.
Derrick Ellis (pictured, below) meanwhile has been on the run since the shooting. Also a convicted felon, he at least faces charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm, as he was “carrying the gun prior to any circumstance that might provide a legal justification for him to possess it,” police said.
In an interview with police, the store manager identified Ellis as an employee who often carries a gun while at work. After the shooting, she told police Ellis asked her to hide the gun because he has a prior felony conviction.
Hours after the shooting, police also arrested a 38-year-old woman at the scene, on a misdemeanor charge of resisting or obstructing an officer, and a felony charge of straw purchasing a firearm — which is buying a gun for someone who cannot pass a background check or doesn’t want their name attached to it.
She was released on a $1,300 bail hours after that.
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