A 7-year-old girl is fighting for her life after being shot in the back of the head Monday evening while taking a ride with her family through Buckhead four days before Christmas.
The incident outside Phipps Plaza follows a spate of shootings in the area as Atlanta police struggle to stem gun violence at the end of a historically deadly year. It also prompted a strong rebuke from one city councilman, who lashed out at what he called a lack of leadership by city officials.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon at police headquarters, interim Chief Rodney Bryant told reporters the little girl was leaving a nearby shopping center with her mother and aunt when a fight broke out between several men in the parking lot of Saks Fifth Avenue.
The child’s aunt told police she remembered hearing several gunshots as she drove along Peachtree Road. Moments later, she noticed the girl had been struck, police said. She drove straight to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, where the child was rushed into surgery.
Atlanta police were called to the hospital about 9 p.m. and began their investigation.
The 7-year-old, whose name was not released, lives in the Mableton area, authorities said. She remained in critical condition Tuesday evening.
APD Homicide Commander Lt. Pete Malecki said the Lexus she was riding in was not the intended target of the shooting. Investigators are still reviewing surveillance footage from the parking lot, but as of Tuesday evening, no arrests had been made. A $10,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the capture of those responsible.
“I am confident that we will have a resolution to this shooting and will bring the individuals to justice as this continues to unfold,” Bryant told reporters, calling the shooting senseless.
The incident is the latest shooting in what has been a violent year in the Buckhead shopping district. Since December 2019, Atlanta police have investigated seven gunfire incidents at nearby Lenox Square. Arrests have been made in most of the cases, including a March shooting outside the mall in which a Tennessee man was killed during a fight over a parking space.
Atlanta police have investigated 150 homicides across the city this year, the most in nearly two decades. The department recorded 99 last year. Meanwhile, department leaders are struggling to retain officers and improve police morale in the wake of this summer’s widespread civil unrest and the firing of several officers.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, City Councilman Howard Shook blasted city leadership, calling the child’s shooting the “latest and most painful example of the utter lawlessness that defines what it means to live in Atlanta.”
“To the administration, I don’t want to hear the word ‘uptick.’ Stop minimizing our concerns by telling us that ‘crime is up everywhere.’ Spare us from the lie that the steady outflow of our officers isn’t as bad as it is. And please, not another throw-away press conference utterly devoid of game-changing action steps.
“It will take a lot to turn this around,” he continued. “But here, in descending order, are the three things we need to begin: 1). Leadership; 2). Some Leadership; 3). Any leadership.”
In a statement responding to the councilman’s comments, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that citing a surge in violence across the nation is “not an abdication of responsibility, but an acknowledgement of the widespread severity of this issue.”
“This is a challenging time in Atlanta and across our country,” Bottoms said. “While we continue to keep public safety as a top priority, senseless gun violence continues to impact innocent lives, like that of the precious 7-year-old girl who was struck by a stray bullet (Monday) night. We owe it to our children, as well as to all of our communities, to do everything in our power to eliminate gun violence.”
She also said she welcomes any suggestions that have not been explored and enacted, adding that she’s “always open to making the city that I am raising my children in a safer place for us all.”
Simon Properties, the group that owns both Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza, announced earlier this month it would install metal detectors at Lenox and hire police dogs to keep guns out of the mall. No plans were announced for Phipps Plaza, which is considered the higher-end destination of the two shopping malls.
Atlanta police have also beefed up their security presence in the area during the busy holiday shopping season, the chief said Tuesday.
Maj. Andrew Senzer, commander of Atlanta’s Zone 2 precinct, said the department has met with the mall’s management and community groups in recent weeks to increase the number of off-duty officers and add private security guards in the area.
Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
On Monday, he said, one man was arrested after entering Lenox Square with a gun and running from officers who tried to stop him. He was taken into custody after throwing the weapon into a trashcan, and police later learned he was a felon, Senzer said. It wasn’t immediately clear if the arrest was the result of the newly installed metal detectors.
”You have the commitment from the Zone 2 police precinct that we will continue to provide robust patrols in and around the commercial spaces in an effort to make the area as safe as possible for residents and (shoppers),” he said.