‘It’s heartbreaking’: Loved ones seek answers in fatal police shooting at Buckhead restaurant

Parents say man was diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia and mental health issues

The family of a man shot and killed by Atlanta police at a crowded, upscale Buckhead restaurant wants answers about what happened and what went wrong.

Nygil Cullins, 22, was at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse in the 3100 block of Piedmont Road, Wednesday night when things took a turn. Atlanta Police Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said restaurant staff called for help with an unruly patron.

Upon arrival, officers encountered Cullins near the bar and tried to escort him out. Police say he was uncooperative. One of the officers used a stun gun, which “had a negative effect on the subject,” Hampton said.

The struggle continued towards the front doors of the restaurant, where Cullins tried to leave but was tackled by a restaurant security guard. According to Hampton, Cullins pulled out a gun, fired one shot and struck the guard.

Officers responded to that shooting by fatally shooting Cullins, Hampton said. The GBI is investigating.

There have been 50 officer involved shootings so far in 2022 where the GBI has been requested to investigate. This is the second one this month involving an Atlanta police officer shooting and killing a man at a Buckhead restaurant. Rogers Kyaruzi was shot and killed at Roasters Rotisserie on May 4.

Nygil Cullins’ father, Quinten Cullins, said his son had been diagnosed with mental health issues and bipolar schizophrenia. Cullins said they were trying to get him help hours before he went to the restaurant.

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Mya Speller Cullins (left) said her son Nygil Cullins struggled with mental health issues. They are shown in an undated family photo.

Credit: Family photo

Mya Speller Cullins (left) said her son Nygil Cullins struggled with mental health issues. They are shown in an undated family photo.

Credit: Family photo

Combined ShapeCaption
Mya Speller Cullins (left) said her son Nygil Cullins struggled with mental health issues. They are shown in an undated family photo.

Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo

“He battled mental health for a while. We always tried to get him help dealing with his depression and bipolar (disorder). That is what we were trying to do yesterday,” Cullins said Thursday. “We called 911 for them to bring someone out. His mom got on the phone and made clear we were dealing with our son. We just needed someone to come and help us to get him to the hospital.”

Mya Speller Cullins knew her son was struggling. She got to his apartment in downtown Atlanta trying to help. When she arrived, she noticed her son was delusional, wasn’t on the right frame of mind, had a raspy voice.

As someone who works with mental health patients, Speller Cullins knew what to do. She reached out to a mental health institution, found a bed for her son, then called 911 to get him to the facility.

In 911 recordings released by the Atlanta Police Department, Speller Cullins can be heard telling the 911 operator that Cullins was talking to himself and hallucinating but was not violent and did not have a weapon. She specifically requested someone trained in dealing with people with mental health.

The operator can be heard on the recording saying paramedics had been sent to help get him transported to a mental health facility.

The help was too late.

“I did what I knew I was supposed to do for the best interest of my own son,” she said. “I waited. An hour passed, an hour and 15 minutes passed, an hour and 20 minutes passed. By that time he was getting antsy and he left. Almost two hours later, the paramedics pulled up and the police pulled up.”

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May 19, 2022 McDonough - Mya Cullins (right), mother of Nygil Cullins, speaks about her son as she sits with her Demietrice King (left), Nygil’s grandmother, and Paula Dixon, Nygil’s aunt, on Thursday, May 19, 2022. The family of a man shot and killed by Atlanta police at a crowded, upscale Buckhead restaurant are still looking for answers into what happened and what went wrong. Nygil Cullins, 22, was eating at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse in the 3100 block of Piedmont Road, Wednesday night when things took a turn. Atlanta police Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said restaurant staff called for help with handling an unruly patron. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

May 19, 2022 McDonough - Mya Cullins (right), mother of Nygil Cullins, speaks about her son as she sits with her Demietrice King (left), Nygil’s grandmother, and Paula Dixon, Nygil’s aunt, on Thursday, May 19, 2022. The family of a man shot and killed by Atlanta police at a crowded, upscale Buckhead restaurant are still looking for answers into what happened and what went wrong. Nygil Cullins, 22, was eating at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse in the 3100 block of Piedmont Road, Wednesday night when things took a turn. Atlanta police Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said restaurant staff called for help with handling an unruly patron. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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May 19, 2022 McDonough - Mya Cullins (right), mother of Nygil Cullins, speaks about her son as she sits with her Demietrice King (left), Nygil’s grandmother, and Paula Dixon, Nygil’s aunt, on Thursday, May 19, 2022. The family of a man shot and killed by Atlanta police at a crowded, upscale Buckhead restaurant are still looking for answers into what happened and what went wrong. Nygil Cullins, 22, was eating at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse in the 3100 block of Piedmont Road, Wednesday night when things took a turn. Atlanta police Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said restaurant staff called for help with handling an unruly patron. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Quinten Cullins feels authorities failed his son by not responding faster.

“I just believe, if they would have responded more quickly, just like they did when they got a phone call from Fogo De Chao, to my son’s apartment, my son would be here, we would not be here talking about it,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking. It hurts because we tried our best to save our son and get him help. Unfortunately, my son is in body bag at the morgue at the medical examiner’s office.”

Mya Speller Cullins said she can’t comment on the investigation until all facts are known. But she is frustrated and wants answers.

“No one is excluded from struggling with mental health. Nygil comes from a good family, he had a good heart, good friends,” she said. “He didn’t deserve it. We just got to do better to make sure people are professionally trained, educated and we are well-equipped in each county to make sure this doesn’t continue to happen.”

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Nygil’s parents both described him as happy and loving.

“Nygil was a vibrant, big-hearted person. He loved everybody; he would give his shirt off his back. He loved helping people. I think that is something me and his mom instilled in him,” Quinten Cullins said. “He was just battling an illness that me and his mom have worked very hard to get him help with.”

He said his son used to work at the restaurant before quitting a couple of months ago but didn’t leave on bad terms. Nygil Cullins was getting his certification and was working towards opening a massage parlor, according to his family.

Quinten Cullins said he has never known his son to have a gun.

“We don’t know who shot first. We don’t if they saw him with a gun and start shooting him, I don’t know. We don’t know what went wrong,” he said. “I just know my son is not here.”

Cullins, who is an ordained minister, and his former wife, who is a mental health and relationship expert who is running for the state House, plan to honor their son’s life by advocating for more mental health awareness and proper training for first responders when dealing with people with mental illness.

“This is becoming an ongoing cycle. We really need to push mental health more than ever,” he said. “I’m definitely going to push because my son’s name is definitely not going to go in vain.”

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Nygil Cullins, 22. was shot and killed by an Atlanta Police Officer at Fogo de Chao in Buckhead on Wednesday night.

Credit: Family photo

Nygil Cullins, 22. was shot and killed by an Atlanta Police Officer at Fogo de Chao in Buckhead on Wednesday night.

Credit: Family photo

Combined ShapeCaption
Nygil Cullins, 22. was shot and killed by an Atlanta Police Officer at Fogo de Chao in Buckhead on Wednesday night.

Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo