15-year-old girl shot to death at Clayton County party attended by hundreds

Teen from Cobb was celebrating a birthday; suspect had been kicked out of venue earlier, police say

Someone who had been escorted out of a Clayton County party attended by hundreds of high school students Saturday returned to the venue later that night and opened fire, according to police.

As a result, a 15-year-old girl is dead.

The killing of Laila Harris is the latest example of gun violence claiming the life of a child in Atlanta. Just in November, at least 15 children were shot in the metro area. Six of them died.

Harris’ body was found by Clayton police about 11 p.m. Saturday near the entrance of an event hall in the 1000 block of Citizens Parkway, a dead-end road off Jonesboro Road not far from Morrow. Authorities said they saw the partygoers scatter when they arrived, moments before discovering the Cobb County teenager with a gunshot wound. Harris was pronounced dead at the scene, according to police spokesperson Sgt. Julia Isaac.

“We need your assistance to find justice for Laila Harris,” Isaac said during a news conference Monday morning.

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Police did not say if they have identified any suspects.

Investigators believe the shooter had been removed from the party, which was attended by students from around the metro area, police said. That person returned later with an alleged accomplice and fired multiple rounds into the building, striking the victim, Isaac said.

In a GoFundMe campaign set up to help with funeral expenses for the Sprayberry High School student, Laila’s family said she was attending a birthday party and was “just doing what any fifteen-year-old likes to do: Trying to have fun, and now we’ve lost her to a senseless act of violence.”

Nearby business owners told Channel 2 Action News that the ECM Event Hall frequently hosts parties, but other than trash left in the parking lot and vehicle break-ins there have never been any issues. Venue staff did not return a request for comment Monday.

Shootings involving teenagers in recent weeks have roiled the Atlanta community and prompted calls for change.

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, 12-year-old Zyion Charles and 15-year-old Cameron Jackson were killed in a shooting on the 17th Street Bridge near Atlantic Station that also injured four other youths. Bullets started flying after the group was asked to leave the popular Midtown Atlanta shopping and dining district after curfew, police have said.

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Before the end of the holiday weekend, another teenager was killed while attending a candlelight vigil for a shooting victim at a DeKalb County apartment complex. Ian Hagerty, 17, was killed in the Nov. 27 shooting, and two other boys, a 16-year-old and 11-year-old, were injured.

The boys were gathered to remember 18-year-old Taneaious McCune, who was killed days earlier when police said he and three others attempted to break into a Gresham Road home and a resident fought back.

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Investigators believe both the Midtown and DeKalb shootings were targeted.

On Monday, Clayton police echoed other law enforcement leaders in calling on parents to keep track of their children.

“I just ask that the parents know where their teenagers are,” Isaac said. “We get multiple reports a week of juveniles running away or sneaking away from home and then they come back a couple of hours later, or days later. It’s like a revolving door, because we do have mostly teenagers that break into cars. If they see guns inside of the cars, they’re going to break the window to get that gun and, in turn, they use that gun to commit another crime. So it’s a full circle.”

She also urged people to remove their belongings, especially firearms, from their vehicles.

This year, at least 71 people under the age of 18 have been shot in Atlanta and the metro area. Of them, 37 have died.

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