Latest loss from Atlanta’s rise in deadly violence: A 7-year-old girl

Kennedy Maxie

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

Kennedy Maxie

A 7-year-old girl died days after she was struck by a stray bullet while Christmas shopping with her family in Buckhead.

Kennedy Maxie died of her injuries Saturday night, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed to local media Sunday. The girl had been in critical condition at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite since the shooting last Monday evening, officials said.

The deadly tragedy comes amid a spate of shootings in the area as police and citizens struggle to stem the spike in violence at the end of a historically deadly year. With Kennedy’s death, there have been 155 homicides across the city, making 2020 the deadliest year in Atlanta since at least 1998.

That year, the Atlanta Police Department investigated 154 deaths, records show. The department investigated 99 homicides in all of 2019.

In Buckhead, where other shootings recently have occurred in the commercial hub, a coalition of the area’s political, business and neighborhood leaders earlier this month released a plan aimed at addressing crime, which included the proposed creation of a new security patrol program.

“Our hearts are broken by the senseless murder of Kennedy,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “While the Atlanta Police Department has significant leads in the apprehension of those responsible, it does not erase the pain felt when a beautiful, vibrant and loving child is tragically taken from her family. We urge the public to continue to provide information that will lead to the arrests of the careless and heartless people responsible for Kennedy’s death.”

Kennedy, who lived in Cobb County and attended Sedalia Park Elementary, was shot in the back of the head while riding with her mother and aunt near Phipps Plaza.

Investigators do not believe the family’s Lexus was the intended target of the shooting, which stemmed from an argument between several men in the parking lot of Saks Fifth Avenue, interim police Chief Rodney Bryant said. Police are still examining surveillance footage from the parking lot in an attempt to identify the shooter, but no arrests have been made.

The child’s aunt told detectives she heard the gunfire while driving along Peachtree Road near the high-end shopping mall. Moments later, she realized Kennedy had been struck and drove straight to the hospital, where the little girl was rushed into surgery.

Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore said she was shocked and devastated when she learned the girl was shot — and moved to tears when she saw news of her death.

Moore said the City Council has “done the best that they can on the policy side” when it comes to public safety issues, but APD officers need to have more of a presence on the street. In order for that to happen, she said, morale issues need to be addressed by “the people that the police officers work directly for.”

Moore’s statement comes after a scathing rebuke from Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook, who released a statement Tuesday taking aim at “the administration” over this year’s rise in violence.

“I don’t want to hear the word ‘uptick.’ Stop minimizing our concerns by telling us that ‘crime is up everywhere,’” Shook’s statement said. Both Bottoms and APD’s Bryant have used similar language when discussing the spike in homicides in recent months, although Shook’s statement did not mention either of them by name.

“Spare us from the lie that the steady outflow of our officers isn’t as bad as it is,” Shook’s statement continued. “And please, not another throw-away press conference utterly devoid of game-changing action steps.”

On Sunday afternoon, Shook told the AJC it was “all so sad” and his heart went out to Kennedy’s family. He declined to elaborate on his comments from earlier in the week.

”I think everyone can agree that today is a day to grieve and at this time I have nothing more to add to my prior statements,” Shook said.

In a response from the mayor’s office after Shook’s initial comments, Bottoms said mentioning the surge in violence across the nation is “not an abdication of responsibility, but an acknowledgement of the widespread severity of this issue.”

“While we continue to keep public safety as a top priority, senseless gun violence continues to impact innocent lives,” she said. “If there are solutions that we have not explored and enacted, I welcome the suggestions, as I am always open to making the city that I am raising my children in a safer place for us all.”

— Staff writers Tyler Estep, Shaddi Abusaid and J.D. Capelouto contributed to this article.