Caption

Vigil shootout leaves Thomasville Heights feeling under siege

It’s the middle of the day and already a sense of foreboding envelops the Forest Cove apartment complex in southeast Atlanta.

A visitor is told, by more than one resident, that he should leave — a suggestion, not a threat.

Eighteen hours earlier, a vigil for a shooting victim ended in a shootout, leaving another young black man dead and the Thomasville Heights community on edge.


» RELATED: Man killed during vigil for shooting victim

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Crime has long been a reality here.

“I’ve lived here 4½ years and it keeps getting worse and worse,” said Betty Williams, 43, one of the only residents who would go on the record.

“Guns being shot all the time,” she said. “The only thing I can do is pray every day.”

Her friend, who declined to give her name, said, “It’s hell. We’re living in hell.”

The latest incident traces back to a shootout Monday night at an adjoining complex on New Town Circle that took the life of Christopher Calhoun, police say. Calhoun showed up at Grady Memorial Hospital with a gunshot wound to the stomach. He was pronounced dead soon after. Police detained the two men who brought Calhoun to Grady after finding several firearms in their vehicle.

Another man, Corey Miller, was shot multiple times in the legs during that shootout. Police found him in an apartment littered with guns, and he was transported to Grady.

Deputy Chief Jeff Glazier, commander of the Atlanta Police Department’s Field Operations Division, said Wednesday’s shooting is believed to be in retaliation for Calhoun’s death.

In the Thomasville Heights community in southeast Atlanta, a 27-year-old man, Eric Smith, was shot to death on Wednesday, June 13, 2018, during a vigil for Christopher Calhoun, who was himself killed in a shootout in Thomasville Heights two nights earlier. (Jenna Eason / Jenna.Eason@coxinc.com)

Nearly 200 people had gathered for the vigil in remembrance of Calhoun when an argument broke out. Guns were fired and Eric Smith, 27, was shot multiple times. He died en route to a local hospital.

Glazier said an arrest warrant has been issued for Wednesday’s shooting.

He knows the community well, having worked in Thomasville Heights as a young field officer in the mid-1990s. Even then, “you’d see one to two shootings a week. Easily.”

“It’s been a challenge for 25 years,” Glazier said.



The Crips dominate the area, he said, including Forest Cove, a large Section 8 housing development reminiscent of the massive housing projects that fueled much higher crime rates in the latter decades of the 20th century. One resident, in a Google housing review, compared the atmosphere in the complex to that portrayed in the 1991 movie “New Jack City.”

Those public housing communities often became “islands of crime,” said retired Atlanta police deputy chief Lou Arcangeli.

Managing the lawlessness is often the best you can hope for, he said.

“Cops only have so much time. Relationships are fragile,” Arcangeli said. “You arrest one crew and another comes in.”

In the Thomasville Heights community in southeast Atlanta, a 27-year-old man, Eric Smith, was shot to death on Wednesday, June 13, 2018, during a vigil for Christopher Calhoun, who was himself killed in a shootout in Thomasville Heights two nights earlier. (Jenna Eason / Jenna.Eason@coxinc.com)

A small security force patrols Forest Cove, according to Glazier, but residents say they aren’t very effective. Maintenance is lacking and despair fills the air.

Residents keep their heads down when asked what can be done.

“Don’t know nothing about it,” said one elderly gentleman, pushing a walker through the heart of the complex.

Even the pastor at a neighboring church requested anonymity.

“I’ve been here 48 years and it’s always been bad,” he said.

Glazier acknowledged the recent spike in crimes. Just last July, 23-year-old Calvin Clark Jr. was shot and killed there while trying to break up a fight. A few years earlier, a 1-year-old boy was shot in the arm, trapped in the middle of a gunfight.


» MORE: Victim’s family says he was killed while breaking up a fight, then robbed


Atlanta police plan to focus anew on Thomasville Heights, Glazier said.

“We’ll be bringing in reinforcements. Some you’ll see, some you won’t,” he said.

Easy access points, where anyone can enter, make it a tougher challenge.

“A lot of people just hang there,” he said of Forest Cove apartments.

Williams said she’s learned not to expect much. Her friend then cut off the interview.

“It’s time for you to go,” she told a reporter. Answering a stranger’s questions is a good way to get yourself shot, she said.


Staff writer Chelsea Prince contributed to this article.

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