Albany State athlete killed in Buckhead club shooting remembered as leader

Stockbridge High grad among 2 dead, 4 injured at Elleven45 Lounge; suspect remains at large
All was quiet Monday morning at the Elleven45 Lounge in Buckhead. Gunfire erupted at around 2:30 a.m. Sunday during a fight inside, police said.

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

All was quiet Monday morning at the Elleven45 Lounge in Buckhead. Gunfire erupted at around 2:30 a.m. Sunday during a fight inside, police said.

Mari Creighton embodied what it meant to be a student-athlete. From her time as a standout volleyball player at Stockbridge High School through her career at Albany State University, the 21-year-old always pushed her teammates to get better on the court, while taking the time to ensure her grades met her own personal standard in the classroom.

“Mari was just an all-around great young lady that will truly be missed,” said her coach at Stockbridge, John Holladay, who only hours earlier had learned of her tragic shooting death at a Buckhead nightclub.

Early Sunday, at around 2:30 a.m., gunfire broke out at the Elleven45 Lounge on Peachtree Road, killing both Creighton and 20-year-old Nakyris M. Ridley. Police said a fight inside the club prompted the shooting that also injured four people, all of whom are recovering at Atlanta-area hospitals and are expected to survive.

Albany State University student Mari Creighton, 21, was one of two people killed in a shooting early Sunday at a Buckhead nightclub, police said.

Credit: Albany State University

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Credit: Albany State University

Authorities said the incident, the latest involving a shooting at or near an Atlanta nightclub, was not a random act. Atlanta police Chief Darin Schierbaum, speaking at Monday’s Atlanta City Council meeting, said there was a single shooter who targeted one other person. That suspect remains at large, but the chief said he was confident an identity would be released soon.

According to an incident report obtained Thursday, Ridley was shot multiple times, while the other victims were each shot once.

“There were a number of people that were in close proximity that were also struck by those rounds,” the chief said. “One did not survive, the individual that was being targeted did not survive, and then we have four citizens who are now recovering at local hospitals.”

Later Monday, Atlanta police would not confirm if Ridley, who had a myriad of previous arrests, was the target of the gunfire. Over the past few years, he was arrested several times in Fulton County on charges that included false imprisonment, felony theft, gun possession and sexual battery, according to online records.

Numerous violent acts have been reported at Elleven45 in recent years. Following Sunday’s chaos, the club wrote in a statement that it would be closed Sunday, though it’s unclear if that closure will continue throughout the week. Club representatives said the shooting “strengthened (its) commitment” to security and they were dedicated to maintaining an “environment where everyone feels secure.”

A man picks up trash Monday outside a Buckhead nightclub where two people were shot and killed early Sunday.

Credit: John Spink/AJC

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Credit: John Spink/AJC

On the South Georgia campus where Creighton had just completed her sophomore year, Albany State officials said they would offer grief counseling for staff and students. Classes ended April 25.

“The Albany State University family is deeply saddened as we have been informed of the sudden passing of one of our students, Ms. Mariam Creighton,” the university wrote in a statement. “Our condolences are with the family of our fallen Ram, her fellow classmates and friends as we deal with this tragic loss. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.”

Creighton played in more than a half-dozen games during the 2023 volleyball season. Before transferring to Albany State, she had a brief stint at Benedict College in South Carolina, where she “immediately became a factor in the program,” her high school coach said.

At Stockbridge High, Creighton was already a returning player when Holladay took over the program. With all of the faces new and the hallways untraveled for the coach, Creighton made sure the transition was easy for him, Holladay said. In her spare time, the 2021 grad loved to sew and had “wonderful” grades in the classroom, he added.

“Mari was dedicated and a hard worker. She was a leader and an awesome teammate,” Holladay said. “She strived to get better at every aspect and pushed her teammates to do the same.”

Creighton’s mother declined to comment when reached by the AJC on Monday. Creighton’s sister said her mom was grieving and not feeling well. “It just happened yesterday,” she said. “It’s just not a good time.”

A petition organized nearly four years ago by a local resident sought the closure of Elleven45, which it deemed “irresponsibly owned” following claims of an increase in crime there. Critics argued the club created an unsafe environment and was “drawing criminal activity” into the neighborhood.

A concerned Collier Hills resident, who did not want to be identified out of fear of retaliation, said neighbors have been calling for the city to shut down the nightclub for years, with things escalating about four years ago. The petition noted five shootings associated with the club had occurred from September 2019 to August 2020, resulting in four deaths. In 2019, Atlanta police received nearly 100 emergency calls associated with the Elleven45 Lounge’s address, the AJC previously reported.

A records request for more current crime data has been filed.

“It seemed like violence really escalated … and a lot of people were really outspoken about it,” the resident stated. “Petitions went out, and I think people were assured that it was going to be calmed down, and I think that kind of calmed people’s concerns. Like, ‘Oh, I’m sure someone is doing something about it.’ And, well, nothing ever really got done at the end of the day, so we’re back to where we started again.”

Over the past few years, the resident said he heard the sound of gunfire every week or two near the nightclub. The neighbors are exploring various options, including setting up meetings with city council members and those who will listen.

The AJC reached out to two people, Djibril Dafe and Ahmed Uwhubetine, who are listed as organizers of Elleven45 Lounge LLC, but did not hear back Monday.

The police chief said the shooting investigation remains “very active” and that new details should be released soon.

“I’m confident that very shortly we can let (the city council) and Atlanta know who we believe committed that crime, who we believe has caused that neighborhood to feel less safe, and we will have them before a court of Fulton County to hold them accountable,” Schierbaum said.