Family recalls Six Flags chaos; mayor calls for change

From fun to fear: Fights inside park, followed by gunfire
Cobb County police shot a teenager outside Six Flags on Saturday after a large crowd allegedly fought inside the park, authorities said.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Cobb County police shot a teenager outside Six Flags on Saturday after a large crowd allegedly fought inside the park, authorities said.

What started as a day of excitement at Six Flags Over Georgia turned to panic for Jerica Johnson and her family Saturday evening when shots rang out outside the park, she said.

The 43-year-old looked up to see hundreds of young people running in a panic near the entrance and ticket booth area, where she was navigating the crowds with her 49-year-old husband, 13-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter in a stroller.

Johnson said the whole crowd “roared” and started stepping on each other in what she called the scariest moment of her life, compounded by fears of an active shooter.

“It was almost like a stampede,” she said. “My husband grabbed our daughter, and then in the crowd of people, we lost each other. I ran into the bathroom and hid in a stall and stayed in there until it sounded quiet.”

According to the GBI, several suspects were chased into the woods outside of the park after they had opened fire in the area, striking an unoccupied police vehicle. An officer eventually returned fire, hitting 15-year-old Syere Littlefield of College Park, who remains hospitalized in critical condition, the state agency said.

The teenager is facing a charge of aggravated assault, Cobb County police announced Monday.

A few hours later, Mableton Mayor Michael Owens called the incident at his city’s amusement park “disappointing” and said he plans to host several public safety meetings. He wants to collaborate with the Cobb Police Department and Cobb Sheriff’s Office while discussing current safety protocols and procedures and exploring innovative approaches to enhance security.

“I go to Six Flags; I take my kids, often, to Six Flags; my mother goes to Six Flags,” Owens said. “Six Flags is still a very safe place to come to. Mableton overall is a very safe city, and I intend to keep it that way.”

Police shot a suspect outside Six Flags Over Georgia on Saturday evening after a large “unruly crowd” caused chaos inside the park on the opening day of the season.

Credit: Benjamin Hendren

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Credit: Benjamin Hendren

After the panicked crowds started running amid the first gunshots, Johnson and her husband, Shaine, quickly lost sight of their son, Nathan. Johnson then glanced at her daughter, Nevaeh, and couldn’t believe what she saw: someone attempting to hurdle over the pink-and-black stroller, which was used by the family to carry belongings and help Nevaeh when she got tired.

The impact knocked the little girl out of the stroller and left her bruised, her mother said.

“It was very scary,” Johnson said.

It was the second straight year that violence was reported at Six Flags on the opening day of the season. According to the GBI, officers originally responded to the park’s entrance around 6:15 p.m. Saturday to assist with crowd control after several fights broke out among guests. Police said they helped security with handling an “unruly crowd” of more than 500 people who were running and fighting throughout the grounds.

Even though she noticed small groups fighting inside the park and a helicopter hovering overhead, Johnson said she didn’t feel in danger at that point.

“(Kids) were just acting foolish, but at the time we weren’t realizing how much danger we were in,” she said.

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The family had looked forward to embarking on the more than 100-mile journey from their home in Byron, their trips becoming a yearly occurrence. They even booked a hotel in the area two weeks in advance.

In the hours leading up to the shooting, Johnson said everything was perfect. Her family went on roller coasters and Nevaeh posed for pictures with Looney Tunes characters and rode in antique cars with her father. The 6-year-old also had the courage to put her hands in the air while riding Up, Up and Away. Her brother did the same as the family rode Monster Mansion together.

“During the day, I thought we were lucky because we were able to conveniently get on rides really fast and had a good time,” Johnson said. “I took lots of pictures and videos, and then it was like something happened after 6:30 p.m. It started getting kind of crowded, and more rough.”

Jerica Johnson (left) and her children, Nevaeh, 6, and Nathan, 13, have fun on a ride at Six Flags Over Georgia prior to a shooting outside the park.

Credit: Jerica Johnson

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Credit: Jerica Johnson

Her family had just finished riding Up, Up and Away when they were told to make their way toward the park’s exit. There, they ran into the massive crowds.

After the shooting, the family stayed in the parking lot for more than an hour. During that time, Johnson said her mother advised them to have medical personnel check on Nevaeh’s injuries, but Johnson was scared to go near the chaos.

The GBI is investigating the shooting outside of Six Flags.

Credit: Benjamin Hendren

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Credit: Benjamin Hendren

In a statement, the park said the shooting did not occur on its property or parking lot. A spokesperson declined to comment on whether the park would add additional security, citing the GBI’s investigation.

“This took place on South Service Road that is not owned or operated by Six Flags,” the statement read. “However, we join our community and the Atlanta region in our commitment to safety and security. We won’t put up with that type of activity here.”

Fighting was previously reported inside the park last March on the first day of the 2023 season. Police records also showed that additional fights broke out at the park six months later. On Sept. 16, a 13-year-old was attacked by a group of juveniles on the opening night of Fright Fest. Officials said he ended up unconscious with a fracture to the back of his skull.

Cobb spokesman Ross Cavitt said the police department is “willing to partner with any group or organization to combat youth violence, because they realize the effects it has on businesses and neighborhoods.”

Johnson’s family eventually left Six Flags about 9:30 p.m. Saturday. On the way home, she said her son pleaded with them to not stop for gas out of fear. The teenager didn’t attend school Monday.

“He’s still pretty upset,” Johnson said. “Our 6-year-old, she seems unscathed. The night of it, she was crying and upset, but (Sunday) she seemed back to normal.

“I can’t watch videos of (the shooting),” she added. “We will not be going back.”