Just three weeks after a 12- and 15-year-old were fatally shot near Atlantic Station, gun violence has claimed the lives of two more Atlanta teens — a story that has become all too familiar to the families grappling with the aftermath of such tragedies and those clamoring to prevent it from happening to their own.
Justin Powell, 16, was one of the children whose life was cut short Saturday, his family confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was shot five times: once in each leg, his chest, his back and through his right eye, they said.
“He died a horrible death,” a family member told the AJC. She did not want to be identified out of fear of retaliation with no suspects arrested yet.
Malik Grover, 14, was the other slain child identified Sunday by the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The deadly shooting is the latest involving children as city officials continue struggling to get the violence under control.
Atlanta police said a social media dispute spilled into real life when gunfire broke out shortly after 5 p.m. at the Retreat at Greenbriar apartments, a complex with a history of crime so rampant that management repeatedly warned that police considered the neighborhood a “war zone,” a recent AJC investigation uncovered in the “Dangerous Dwellings” series.
Investigators did not disclose the nature of the dispute, saying only that one group of individuals arrived at the apartment with guns and another group opened fire. A deadly shootout ensued, also leaving three others injured: a girl and boy, both 15, and an 11-year-old boy. The extent of their injuries was not shared, but police said one of the three appeared to be a graze wound.
“A week before Christmas, families should be preparing to celebrate. Instead, we have parents in Atlanta doing what no parent should ever have to do: laying their children to rest,” Mayor Andre Dickens said Sunday. “My heart is broken for these families. And I have anger in my soul.”
Justin was his mother’s youngest child, his family member said. He loved basketball and music and had just finished writing a song for his mother, she said.
Her comments echoed those of De’Erica Charles, whose 12-year-old son, Zyion, was shot to death the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Charles spoke at an Atlanta City Council public safety meeting days after the shooting, saying she tried repeatedly to bring her son’s behavior to the attention of law enforcement.
“We called. We tried,” Justin’s loved one said. “I know it’s not all on the law, but there has to be some program. There has to be somebody to acknowledge that there is a problem, and when parents reach out, hear that cry for help (and) not as them trying to put the children off on somebody.”
Both of his parents were very present in Justin’s life, and he was a straight-A student and “extremely intelligent,” she said, but he got involved with the wrong crowds and wouldn’t listen to reason.
“Yes, Justin got caught up, but these are wake-up calls. We are not making any excuses, and we’re not trying to say, ‘Oh, he was this perfect kid,’ because he wasn’t,” his loved one said. “But we’ve got to do something to keep these kids engaged.”
“We just can’t have a forum and talk about it and not do anything else,” she added. “We’ve done too much talking. We’ve done too much talking, and every time we talk, within three or four days, we’re getting another set of kids that are murdered. ... We’re tired of dealing with tragedy.”
Ending the violence is a “group project,” Dickens said Sunday. “It takes every single one of us to counter this plague in our community. From city government to our police, to our schools, to clergy, to parents and to young people themselves, we must pledge not to accept this violence as normal and do all that we can to end it.”
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