Family, friends and community members wearing red, white and black sat at a solemn gathering Saturday as they faced a bright red casket with a picture of 12-year-old Zyion Charles atop.

“Hold y’all kids. I’m trying to be so strong, but my boy gone. They took my boy from me. Hold y’all kids,” De’Erica Charles said during her son’s funeral at the First Iconium Baptist Church. “It hurt different, it’s a different hurt, and it hurt me real deep. My baby is gone.”

On Nov. 26, a group of children and teenagers was escorted off the Atlantic Station property for violating a 3 p.m. curfew and unruly behavior. The group moved to the 17th Street bridge nearby, where shots were fired moments later at about 8 p.m. Zyion died at the scene. Another teen, Cameron Jackson, died two days later in the hospital after he was shot and critically injured while on a scooter at the scene. Four others were injured and released from local hospitals.

A fatal victim of a shooting near Atlantic Station was 12-year-old Zyion Charles. (Photo: Channel 2 Action News)

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

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Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Several children walked in the aisle of the church during Saturday’s ceremony while parents held onto tissues, breaking the occasional silence with sniffles. Though the funeral was an opportunity for those who knew Zyion to say goodbye, it was also an opportunity to remember what he left behind.

“We thank you, God, that for 12 plus years, (Zyion) blessed us with smiles and with memories that count never be erased,” the Rev. Ron Sailor said. “We thank you God, that although we cannot touch his hands, hold his neck, hear his voice, laugh at his jokes, we declare, God, that there are something death will never take away from us.”

As of Dec. 4, Zyion was one of at least 71 children under the age of 18 shot in metro Atlanta this year. Of them, at least 37 have died.

Zyion’s cousin, T’Asia Charles, talked through her exhaustion and despair of seeing kids her own age pick up guns and engage in violence.

“I watch people become more and more inhumane and killing others mercilessly,” she said. “I see the young siblings that he left, the twin sister whom he shared the same room with, who he shared the same heart with has to feel a detachment.”

 The casket of 12-year-old Zyion Charles is moved into the First Iconium Baptist Church Saturday, December 10, 2022. Family, friends and community members wearing red, white and black sat at a solemn gathering Saturday as they faced the bright red casket as his picture sat atop. (Steve Schaefer/steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

Zyion was seen walking with a group of teenagers after leaving Atlantic Station the day of the shooting, according to investigators. One of those firing shots — including the one that killed Zyion — was in the same group, police said. A 15- and 16-year-old have been arrested in the incident, but their names were not released. Both have been charged with two counts of murder, aggravated assault and gang charges.

“What I was able to determine through my investigation is that Zyion was killed from this person’s bullet,” homicide Detective Jarion Shephard said. “This person is also part of Zyion’s group. There was not a back-and-forth shootout between the second male who’s now deceased.”

After Zyion was shot, the group continued walking, boarding a MARTA train at the Arts Center station, according to police. Video from the train appeared to show the teens gloating and celebrating, Shephard said.

“During the train ride, they antagonized different customers,” Shephard said of the group. “They flashed their waistband, gesturing like they were going to pull their weapon out. They flashed gang signs, they antagonized another group at a gas station and they also seemed to be celebrating, making gestures and talking about the shooting.”

Atlanta police Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said the two suspects arrested were students in the Atlanta public school system. The 16-year-old was captured in New York City with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service. Additional arrests are possible, Hampton said.

Near the end of the funeral, people spoke about needed change to help the youth put the guns down, to help children stay away from crimes and to ensure no more children are killed due to gun violence.

“You going to have to put the gun down. The system is designed for y’all to fail. They handing out more time than y’all can imagine,” one community member said. “First of all, you have to respect your parents. And parents, you have to demand your respect.”

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Zyion’s grandmother Sandra Durden explained that family and community must always stick together, making sure no one falls apart or gets left behind. She asked the community to keep her family in mind as they continue navigating a world without Zyion.

“I’m asking you all, please, please ... pray for my child, she’s going to need it. Pray for (Zyion’s) twin sister, she’s going to need it,” Durden said. “Get closer to your kids. Please, kids, put the guns down. Guns kill, they kill.”