At 4:30 p.m. Thursday, tensions exploded inside a MARTA train pulling into the West Lake station. Bullets flew from a pistol, tearing passengers’ flesh and dropping blood as panic and confusion rose over what could cause such a brazen act of public violence.
The shooting, which left a man dead and three other people wounded, comes amid increases of MARTA ridership as Atlanta roads remain choked in the aftermath of the fiery I-85 bridge collapse. The stations have been packed, with officials including Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed encouraging ridership as the road is rebuilt.
Quickly after the killing, MARTA sought to calm fears.
The system police issued a statement saying Zachariah Hunnicutt, the 38-year-old father who died, was “targeted” in an “isolated” case. Officers quickly arrested suspect Chauncey Lee Daniels, 37, on charges of murder and aggravated assault, reportedly as he tripped trying to leave the scene.
“The safety of our passengers continues to be our No. 1 priority,” Police Chief Wanda Dunham said in a news release.
MARTA declined to elaborate on why Hunnicutt would’ve been targeted, citing the integrity of the pending investigation.
Ominously, Hunnicutt posted a video to his Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon, unleashing a tirade about a woman he claims was trying to “assassinate” his character. He’s standing at a MARTA station in the footage.
“Now you want to shoot at somebody,” he says.
When asked about the dispute with the woman, MARTA declined to comment on whether it could be related to the shooting.
Family also told Atlanta media Hunnicutt and Daniels worked together and previously fought.
Whatever the motives might be, Hunnicutt’s death marks the fifth homicide investigated by MARTA police this fiscal year, a highly unusual spate. The previous four years saw zero homicides in the system’s jurisdiction.
Still, officials point out that arrests have been made in all five homicides. They also tout a 27 percent decrease in serious crime in the past five years, attributing the improvement largely to the presence of a 10,000-camera security system and the suspensions of problem riders.
Several people waiting to board at the Dunwoody station Friday morning said they’d heard about the shooting, but opted to ride anyway.
Robbie and Kim Keefer of Greenville, South Carolina, were riding downtown to visit CNN. They decided not to tell their children about Thursday’s shooting.
The couple viewed the bloodshed as a rare occurrence and preferred not to worry the kids.
“There were times when I felt comfortable riding and times when I didn’t,” Kim Keefer said.
Jeremy Thigpen, a Dunwoody resident who rides to work at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, also wasn’t worried.
“Most stations always have plenty of (MARTA) personnel,” he said.
In this time of busy terminals and present fear, Dunham ensured officers would stay present.
“We have increased our presence throughout the entire MARTA system and will continue to remain vigilant in protecting all of our riders,” the chief said Friday.
Family of Hunnicutt, however, is complaining that the police didn’t keep him safe.
“How did he get killed on the train like that? We need to know,” sister Alisha Hunnicutt told Channel 2 Action News.
It’s illegal to carry a gun on MARTA unless you’re licensed, but passengers aren’t routinely screened.
Daniels couldn’t be licensed because he’s a convicted felon many times over, serving time in state prison for convictions including assaulting police, obstruction, drug possession and gun charges, Georgia Department of Corrections records show.
Yet, he carried a pistol on board, according to the police report.
Hunnicutt was shot multiple times and pronounced dead on the scene. Three others, including Hunnicutt’s girlfriend were taken to Grady Memorial for non-life threatening injuries. It is unclear whether the other two victims besides Hunnicutt’s girlfriend were connected with Hunnicutt or simply bystanders.
Hunnicutt leaves behind a 6-year-old daughter.
His estranged wife, Alisha Clopton, said the child was up all night.
“She’s been crying,” Clopton told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “She understands.”
Staff writer David Wickert contributed to this story.