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Mourners pray, cops seek answers in 8-year-old’s shooting death

07/07/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Charmaine Turner (second from left) and Secoriey Williamson (right) are emotional as people pray for them during a vigil for their daughter, Secoriea Turner, at Ralph David Palza in Atlanta's Mechancsville community, Tuesday, July 7, 2020. There is a $20,000 reward for information leading to identifying and finding four men that APD believes are people of interest in the killing of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner. Secoriea was shot and killed while riding with her family along University Avenue, near the Wendy's where Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by an APD officer.(ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
07/07/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Charmaine Turner (second from left) and Secoriey Williamson (right) are emotional as people pray for them during a vigil for their daughter, Secoriea Turner, at Ralph David Palza in Atlanta's Mechancsville community, Tuesday, July 7, 2020. There is a $20,000 reward for information leading to identifying and finding four men that APD believes are people of interest in the killing of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner. Secoriea was shot and killed while riding with her family along University Avenue, near the Wendy's where Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by an APD officer.(ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Mourners came together Tuesday evening to grieve Secoriea Turner, stolen months before her 9th birthday. A familiar hymn rose from the crowd as the gathering began.

“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”

Messages of condolence filled a poster. Secoriea’s mother, Charmaine Turner, drew a broken heart.

“Sometimes God has to take his angel early before they actually sin because she never sinned,” said Gregory Williamson, Secoriea’s great uncle.

Earlier Tuesday, investigators released surveillance footage of a man wanted for questioning in connection with Secoriea’s July 4 shooting death.

“I’m confident that somebody knows the name of this man,” Atlanta police Lt. Pete Malecki said.

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The 8-year-old rising third grader was killed Saturday evening after gunmen opened fire on her mother’s SUV as she attempted to turn around in a parking lot near the ruins of a Wendy’s torched after Rayshard Brooks’ June 12 shooting death. Two Atlanta police officers, one since fired, face charges in the Brooks shooting.

“They didn’t give us time to make a U-turn,” Turner said during a Sunday news conference. “They shot my tires before we had time to turn around. She died in my arms.”

There have been at least two other shootings, at least one beating and multiple reports of threats against people approaching the site since the restaurant parking lot became a community gathering spot of sorts. Armed individuals at the location threatened to shoot an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter and photographer in recent days.

ExplorePHOTOS: Mourners hold vigil following 8-year-old’s shooting death

During Tuesday’s vigil, Williamson lamented both the earlier violence and lack of response to it.

“They are killing the movement. The movement is for peace,” he said of those causing harm. “If the police department had done their job two, three weeks ago, my niece would be here today. They dropped the ball.”

Investigators believe the shots were fired intentionally on July 4 after the Jeep Cherokee Secoriea was riding in crossed a “makeshift roadblock that was manned by numerous armed individuals,” Malecki said.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in this case, but this is the first step in this process,” he said.

The car was struck at least eight times by at least four people.

“We believe at this point, there is going to be a minimum of three additional suspects,” said Malecki, who said investigators believe the shooters did not act in self-defense.“We’ve also processed that vehicle and there is no ballistic evidence to suggest that occurred.”

CrimeStoppers Greater Atlanta is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

“Please, if you know who did this, please turn them in,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said during a Sunday news conference. “These people are a danger to all of us.”

Secoriea was among several victims shot to death over the Independence Day weekend. Police identified others as 20-year-old Joshua Ingram, 32-year-old Erica Robinson, 26-year-old Demarquez Mobley, 53-year-old Christopher Brooks and 23-year-old Anthony McGhee.

Rev. Darryl Winston of Greater Works Ministries in Marietta organized Tuesday’s Peace in the Streets Prayer Vigil near Ralph David Abernathy Park in the Mechanicsville neighborhood.

Meanwhile Georgia National Guardsmen — armed with weapons meant for foreign adversaries — have been deployed to the streets of Atlanta in recent days. On Sunday, vandals smashed the windows of the Georgia State Patrol headquarters, and someone threw a homemade grenade into a supervisor’s office in the building, authorities said.

“Peaceful protests were hijacked by criminals with a dangerous, destructive agenda. Now, innocent Georgians are being targeted, shot, and left for dead,” said Gov. Brian Kemp, explaining the decision to call up the Guard. “This lawlessness must be stopped and order restored in our capital city.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms disparaged the move during a Good Morning America appearance, saying Kemp had done so “without asking if we need the National Guard.”

Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden Jr., Georgia’s adjutant general, declined to say precisely how many Guardsmen have been deployed, though Kemp’s order calls for up to 1,000. Earlier this year the Guard’s missions have included mobilizing to help food banks across the state and disinfecting nursing homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Any time you turn on your street corner and one of us is standing there with a helmet on, you know that some of the social fabric is coming unwound,” Carden said. “That is not good for any of us,”So I am hopeful and prayerful that we get past this and get past it soon.”

- AJC reporter Jeremy Redmon contributed to this article.