Her job as a flight attendant wasn’t paying the bills, so Carolyn Gilbert got a second job at the Macy’s at Lenox Square.
The five-hour stockroom shifts were flexible, and the extra cash helped Gilbert catch up on her finances. But as she left work shortly after noon on her final shift of 2019, just four days before Christmas, she was confronted in the parking deck by two young men, Gilbert told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. One had a gun.
“When he approached me, and he asked me to give him everything, he was pointing a gun at my head,” Gilbert said Wednesday. “I said, ‘I don’t have anything. You have no idea who you are robbing.’”
Gilbert’s cellphone and car keys were stolen and she was shot once in the stomach. Atlanta police have made two arrests in the case.
Antonio Brown, 17, is charged with aggravated assault, armed robbery and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. D’Vonte Dean, 24, is charged with aggravated assault with intent to rob, armed robbery, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Brown was being held at the Fulton County jail Wednesday without bond. Dean was transferred to state prison late last month on separate charges.
Gilbert survived the physical injuries, but can’t shake the fear that paralyzed her that day.
“To be robbed like this? I could have died. I could have died,” Gilbert said. “I’m an aunt and godmother. I could have died, and that’s something I will have to live with the rest of my life.”
With its high-end retail shops and upscale dining destinations, Lenox Square has long been the landmark of Atlanta’s Buckhead district. And safety has long been a top priority in the area — there’s an Atlanta Police Department mini-precinct at the mall. But three recent shootings including the one that left Gilbert injured have authorities on alert.
“This is not where I would expect this to be occurring,” APD Chief Erika Shields said Wednesday. “You can’t have three shootings at a mall in eight weeks and not have heartburn.”
The Vice President of Public Relations for Simon Malls, which operates Lenox, said the company is taking the recent crimes seriously.
“Any act of violence at Lenox Square is unacceptable and that is why we take extraordinary measures in our security protocols while working with the Atlanta Police Department,” Ali Slocum said in an email to The AJC. “We agree with Chief Shields that the current brazen behavior throughout society is unprecedented and we remain fully committed to ensuring Lenox Square is a safe and welcoming destination for everyone.”
None of the recent shootings happened inside the building.
On Jan. 18, an APD sergeant was alerted to an armed robbery in progress outside the mall's food court. The sergeant responded and discovered one man holding another at gunpoint and ordered the armed man to drop the weapon. When he refused, the sergeant fired shots, striking the man, Atlanta Police Deputy Chief Jeff Glazier said.
The GBI investigated and determined the robbery "victim" had himself been involved in a crime. Two men were arrested and charged within hours, according to the GBI.
Christian Edlin, 21, was charged with aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and carrying a pistol without a license. Edlin was injured and has not yet been booked into the Fulton jail, records show. Antonio Williams, 23, was charged with robbery by snatching and giving a false name and date of birth. He is currently out of jail on $50,500 bond, records show.
In the most recent incident, a man was shot Monday afternoon in a Lenox parking lot following a “pre-arranged meeting” in the mall’s food court, authorities said. The injured man, who was described as alert, was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, police spokesman Officer Anthony Grant said. That shooting remains under investigation.
Violent crimes aren’t typical in the area around the mall; smash-and-grab thefts have been more common. And Lenox is hardly the only shopping destination beset by headline-grabbing incidents. A shooting at Cobb County’s Cumberland Mall weeks before Christmas left one person injured and led to two arrests.
Zaire Dhanoolal, 18, was charged with two counts of aggravated assault and was being held without bond Wednesday at the Cobb jail. Joweer Ponce, 19, was charged with reckless conduct and carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. He is currently free on $10,000 bond, records showed.
Following the spate of incidents at Lenox, the Atlanta Police Department will reassess staffing, including the off-duty officers who work second jobs in the area, Shields said.
“It’s caught us flat-footed, the level of brazenness that’s been exhibited,” she said. “We’re awake now. And we need to reestablish who’s in charge. I don’t want someone innocent getting hurt again. We have to be more engaged."
Although the incidents have set social media ablaze at times, some shoppers remain loyal to the popular spot. Kennesaw State University Quincy Jean-Louis has been to Lenox three times since December.
“I’m not particularly concerned,” Jean-Louis said. “You run that risk any time you’re in a crowd of people.”
Gilbert, though, has no plans to return to Lenox. She's missed more than a month of work recovering from her injuries, and hopes to be transferred to a different Macy's location. She isn’t sure she’ll ever recover emotionally.
“I’ve never felt so violated, so hurt and so disrespected," she said. "I’ll always be on the lookout for people trying to hurt me.”
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