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‘The Whole Village Has a Responsibility’: Fatal Shooting of 12-Year-Old Boy In Atlantic Station Spurs Call from Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens for Community Effort to End Gun Violence

Atlanta has been rocked by a mass shooting that left a 12-year-old boy dead and five teenagers injured near Atlantic Station, a landmark shopping district in the city.

Zyion Charles’ family is reeling from the tragedy. His grandmother said he was an innocent bystander caught up in a dispute between other youths. Officials have not released witness statements from the night of the incident. One other child is also in critical condition after the Saturday night shooting.

Mayor Andre Dickens, the city’s police chief and Atlanta Public Schools leaders are calling for proactive parenting and a village approach to curb youth violence in response to the mass shooting.

Zyion Charles was shot and killed near Atlantic Station in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 26, 2022. (Photo: YouTube/11Alive screengrab)

“When a 12-year-old dies in our city — on our city streets … the whole village has a responsibility, and the whole village is impacted,” Dickens said during a news conference Sunday morning.

Atlanta police chief Darin Schierbaum said everyone involved in the incident was a teenager. Officers found three handguns at the scene.

Zyion’s grandmother, Sandra Durden, said the seventh grader did not have a gun and was at the wrong place at the wrong time. She told WSB-TV she left him home, and he later went to Atlantic Station with a group of friends.

“You could never imagine a 12-year-old losing his life,” Durden said.

Authorities said the shooting occurred around 8 p.m., right after security and off-duty officers escorted the group off the mall’s property for “disorderly behavior” and violating its curfew.

As of January, all minors at Atlantic Station must be accompanied by an adult after 3 p.m. In addition, no one under 21 is allowed after 9 p.m. Dickens said all of the victims’ parents were unaware of the curfew.

The mayor stressed the importance of parents keeping track of their children’s whereabouts through cell phones, apps or other lines of communication.

“I’m asking parents right now that you use your phones, your Android, or your iPhone. They all have trackers….” Dickens said. “And then to be able to hold them accountable to know curfews at the places that they visit and to make sure when they’re visiting friends and their friends’ parents also know where their kids are at all times.”

Schierbaum said the opposing individuals knew each other, and tensions boiled over on the outskirts of the shopping area. No suspects have been identified, but Schierbaum noted some of those involved were known to authorities.

“We anticipate warrants will be issued in this case relatively soon,” he said during the news conference.

Still, the chief has asked anyone with photos or videos of the incident to submit them to police. Atlantic Station told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution it is “helping law enforcement in every way possible” but has distanced itself from the incident.

Atlanta police homicide commander Lt. Germain Dearlove said they suspected at least two shooters were involved. Cell phone video from the scene on social media shows multiple boys stomping others on the ground.

Zyion’s family held a candlelight vigil for the slain boy on Sunday night. They released white and red balloons in honor of the “funny” KIPP Soul Academy student, who they said loved music and his family, especially his twin sister, Zyrhia.

“It was a whole. And now it’s a half. I don’t have him no more,” Zyrhia told WSB-TV.

Durden said she promised her grandson an iPhone 13 for Christmas if he attended school every day until Christmas break.

“He was so happy,” she said

Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Lisa Herring said the school system has employed resources and implemented joint measures with the city and the police department to offer proactive and reactive support for parents and students.

Herring said Atlanta schools use restorative practices, which focus on the underlying reasons for students’ behavior and teach them to use their emotional and social skills to resolve conflict.

The superintendent said the students also have access to psychological services and social workers on school campuses. However, it is “imperative” that parents inform the schools if their children need additional support, she said.

“We know that we cannot address this challenge alone,” Herring said.

Representatives for Atlantic Station said it is increasing security measures, including boosting the number of law enforcement officers to discourage large gatherings and enforce the curfew. The police chief said more than a dozen off-duty Atlanta officers were working security at the shopping center at the time of the shooting.

Reports show that two women were shot in separate incidents at Atlantic Station in October, caught in the crossfire between feuding groups. Another woman was shot after a fight escalated to gunfire in January.

“This is a group project,” Dickens said. “The entire village has to chip in on this. To reduce the gun violence, to reduce the issues that are plaguing our communities, it’s going to take everyone.”

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