The mass shooting near Atlantic Station, a popular shopping area in Atlanta has been updated to a double homicide after another victim died Wednesday succumbing to his injuries.
A second boy, Kameron Jackson, 15, was in critical condition after the deadly shooting Saturday night and died Tuesday. Atlanta police say Jackson was the sole target of the shooting that also snuffed 12-year-old Zyion Charles’ life on the 17th Street bridge in the heart of the city.
Zyion’s family believes he was bystander who had gotten caught up in the wrong crowd. His mother said she tried to seek help to stop him from being a statistic. Deerica Charles said this week she pleaded with a local police officer just seven days before her son was killed.
“I said, ‘I’m begging you. I’m begging you. Could you get my son in custody?’ He said, ‘I can take them down to the juvenile system all day. … But they’re not going to keep them. He has to really hurt somebody for them to keep your son,’” she recalled. “But now he’s hurt.”
Authorities say everyone involved was a tween or teenager, and at least three of them were shooters. Police recovered three weapons on the scene.
It is unclear how many children were involved in the incident, but surveillance footage released by police from local train stations shows at least eight to 10 teenagers and preteens were riding from station to station in the city.
“It’s tragic. Being a father myself, having young teenage daughters, it’s difficult to investigate the death of a child,” Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said during a press conference Wednesday. “My heart goes out to the mothers of these two sons. I can’t imagine what they’re currently going through.”
Detectives identified one of the suspects in the footage as the “main shooter,” who appeared to be a leader and the oldest in the group. Four other children were injured and later released from nearby hospitals.
“They all kind of mimic his movements. They follow him. They gave him handshakes,” Atlanta homicide Detective Jarion Shephard said Wednesday. “He seems to be one who has the most persuasion in the group.”
Zyion’s mother told the Atlanta City Council on Monday night she begged police to arrest him over two dozen times as he started hanging around with teenagers involved in car break-ins. She even had one officer’s personal number.
“I tried, y’all,” Charles said fighting back tears. “I called the police officer almost 30 times, 30 times in the last few years. They told me they can’t do nothing. I said he is out here breaking in folks’ cars. Can y’all please get him off the streets? Just take him down before somebody kills my son.”
Zyion started to spiral, Charles said, after she stopped giving him medication for a mental illness. He had a “bad” allergic reaction and had to use five EpiPens.
Authorities said the shooting happened shortly after the group was escorted from the Atlantic Station for violating its curfew and “disorderly conduct.” The popular outdoor shopping area near a MARTA train station implemented a 3 p.m. curfew for minors in January after two women were killed in similar shootings.
Mayor Andre Dickens said the victims’ parents were not aware of the curfew. Zyion’s grandmother, Sandra Durden, said she left him at home and didn’t know he was at Atlantic Station. She had warned him not to leave the house.
“By the time I got back, he was gone,” Durden told the city council on Monday.
Shephard said Zyion was killed by bullets from a weapon fired by the “main shooter,” a teenager that was in the group he followed to Atlantic Station. He fired most of the rounds that killed and injured most of the victims, the detective added.
Shephard said the group was hanging out when Kameron and two other teens rode by on scooters. The primary suspect pulled out a handgun and fired multiple rounds at Kameron, but others in the group got caught in the crossfire. Zyion died on the scene.
“Zyion took a bullet, an indirect shot meant for Kameron. So did the other victims out there,” Shephard said. “All of the bullets were meant — directed for Kameron. All the rest were collateral damage.”
The detective said the group was flashing gang signs, but it is still unclear if the shooting was gang-related. He is also not sure when they realized the 12-year-old was dead, but they appeared to be “celebrating” and bragging about the shooting, according to Shephard. Two of the other teenagers in Zyion’s group also fired at Kameron when he was identified as the “opposition.”
Dickens and other community leaders have called for a “village approach” to curtailing the recent uptick in crime among youth.
Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring said the school system offers counseling and other resources to help parents, however, parents must inform the school of their needs.
Still, Charles said she met with social workers at his school. His grandmother also tried to offer him an incentive to attend school every day — a new iPhone for Christmas.
Charles said she is a single parent of five kids, who worked two jobs, so she couldn’t “stay at home and hold Zyion’s hand,” but she would call the police whenever he came home late. She asked her mother about Zion’s whereabouts before Durden left the home on Saturday.
“My son is gone. I don’t have no son no more. He’s gone,” Charles said breathing heavily through her tears. “I cried out for help. I cried out for it, y’all. I promise you. I cried out for it. But I failed my son. I failed my kids. I failed myself because I felt like I didn’t do enough, but I cried.”
Authorities are asking anyone with information to call Crime Stoppers Atlanta (407-577-8477) and anyone involved to call Atlanta Police. The department is offering a $10,00 reward for tips that lead to an arrest.