One family reached a resolution in court Monday after losing their 7-year-old daughter to gun violence two years ago. Now another Atlanta family is faced with the same heartbreaking journey.
The same day the suspect in the 2020 fatal shooting of 7-year-old Kennedy Maxie was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, Atlanta police announced the identification of two suspects in the shooting death of another 7-year-old, Ava Phillips.
One of those suspects is the child’s mother, police confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“We are suffering as a community this morning,” Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said Monday afternoon. “It broke my heart to watch. Here I get a huge success last week: Kennedy Maxie’s killer held responsible. And this morning I wake up to another precious life stolen.”
On Saturday night, an argument broke out at a family gathering at the Camden Vantage Apartments, situated between the northeast Atlanta neighborhoods of the Old Fourth Ward and Sweet Auburn. Shots were fired, and police were called to the Jackson Street complex around 10:15 p.m.
When they got there, they found Phillips with a gunshot wound to the head. She did not survive.
Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com
Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com
“Any death is tragic, but when there’s a child involved, it really hits home,” Atlanta police Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said.
By Monday, police had obtained warrants for the arrests of 23-year-old Deshon Collins and Phillips’ mother, 44-year-old Kemeka Springfield.
Springfield is in custody and facing charges of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Collins is still at large. He faces charges of murder, cruelty towards children, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
It is not clear how Springfield is involved, as she has not been charged with murder.
Hampton said it appeared a domestic dispute during the gathering escalated into an exchange of gunfire. He could not say if investigators believe the girl was the intended target, but the child’s father believes she was hit by a stray bullet.
During a Monday afternoon news conference, Willis said both deaths are “the same in that they take away our most precious commodity: Our children.”
In Maxie’s case, she had been shopping with her mother and aunt in 2020 when a bullet struck her as she rode in the backseat of her aunt’s car. She died the day after Christmas.
But there is a distinction, Willis said, and that is that Phillips died as a result of domestic violence.
“It is ... something that we know is really just — people don’t seem to be able to get along in relationships, and we have too many guns in the wrong hands and too much freedom to get guns,” Willis said. “This is a harsh reality: If you are in a domestic situation and there is a gun present, you and everyone around you is in more danger. And it is very difficult for law enforcement to be anything but a reactor to that.”
Phillips’ father, Jonathan Phillips, told Channel 2 Action News that Ava and her brother were visiting their mother at Camden Vantage when there was some type of disagreement, and “one thing led to another.”
It was the worst phone call he’s ever received, he said.
“She was a good girl,” Jonathan Phillips told Channel 2 in an exclusive interview. “Man, she didn’t deserve this. It’s just this violence.”
In a GoFundMe campaign set up to help the family with funeral expenses, Ava was described as being “full of joy and would brighten any room.”
It marked the 42nd child to be shot in metro Atlanta this year, according to records by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That number includes children unintentionally shot by themselves or another child, those who were intentionally shot and those who were caught in the crossfire.
Police have not released many details in most of the cases, and other incidents may not have been reported to police. It is difficult to determine exactly how many children have been shot and the nature of each case, but based on the limited information 21 of the 42 children have died.
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