Mother of slain 12-year-old says the system failed him

`I cried out for help,’ Deerica Charles told Atlanta City Council Monday
Zyion Charles, 12, was shot and killed Saturday night on the 17th Street bridge, according to Atlanta police.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Zyion Charles, 12, was shot and killed Saturday night on the 17th Street bridge, according to Atlanta police.

The mother and grandmother of Zyion Charles, the 12-year-old boy fatally shot near Atlantic Station Saturday after Thanksgiving, tearfully told the Atlanta City Council they repeatedly called for law enforcement to intervene as older men encouraged him to attempt car break-ins.

Deerica Charles said Zyion changed when she stopped treating his mental illness after his allergic reaction to the medication. Zyion’s grandmother said several youth ages 17 and 18 made him participate in the break-ins, even after she asked their parents to intervene.

Zyion’s relatives said they begged police 30 times in the last two years to arrest him, but were told they couldn’t intervene unless he hurt someone.

“I cried out for help,” Charles told the Atlanta City Council public safety committee Monday. “I cried out for it. I promise y’all, I cried out for it.”

Five others under 18 were also injured during the shooting, which prompted city leaders — including Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and police Chief Darin Schierbaum — to implore parents and other citizens for help in fighting gun violence.

Atlanta City Councilwoman Keisha Sean Waites is creating legislation for a 7 p.m. youth curfew. Deputy Police Chief Timothy Peek said parents receive citations when their children violate curfew. When parents can’t be found, Peek said they either keep kids in police cars or try to take them to court.

“Help these young boys because I don’t have a chance anymore,” Deerica Charles said Monday.

Councilman Michael Julian Bond said the council needs to speak with different agencies to extend the time when recreational centers and schools are open. Councilwoman Marci Collier Overstreet said their 911 operations need more access to cameras on private property. Councilwoman Mary Norwood said they need to revise the juvenile system and hold youth organizations accountable if they receive city funds.

Atlanta police officers secure the scene after responding to a shooting on 17th Street near Atlantic Station on Saturday night. (Photo: Ben Hendren for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Hendren

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Credit: Ben Hendren

Although Saturday’s shooting didn’t take place on Atlantic Station property, it was close to the upscale district, where two unrelated shootings were reported last month. In both of those shootings, victims were caught in the crossfire and were not intended targets. Atlantic Station had increased security to combat crime just in time for the holiday season.

Saturday evening, a group of children and teenagers were escorted out of Atlantic Station, several hours after the retail and residential district’s 3 p.m. curfew, according to Atlanta police. Moments later, shots were fired on the 17th Street bridge, killing Zyion and injuring five others, all under the age of 18.

Durden told council members Zyion was asleep when she left her home on Saturday. When she returned, he was gone.

“Then we got the call that he was dead,” Durden said.

The grandmother of 17 said she had lost three family members in the past year, including a son and sister to cancer, and her father died last month. Zyion had also had a hard time dealing with the deaths, Durden said.

Durden, like Zyion’s mother, also tried to get the boy help.

“He can’t be locked up now,” Durden said. “He’s dead. The system has failed us again. Again.”

The proposed curfew legislation would require any location that has patterns of violence to integrate commercial-grade cameras into the Atlanta Police Department’s video center, giving 911 operators access to those cameras.

“As a stopgap measure to save the lives of family members and our neighbors until we develop a solution, we must move quickly to protect the lives of our most vulnerable populations,” Waites said.

Late Monday, the investigation continued into the shooting that killed Zyion and no arrests had been announced. And despite his troubles, his family remembered Zyion as a boy who adored his twin sister and was excited to get a new iPhone for Christmas.

Several thousand dollars had been donated to a GoFundMe page to help Zyion’s family with funeral costs. Arrangements were pending late Monday.

“Zyion was not just one of my students he was like one of my own babies,” one person posted on the fundraising page. “I loved him and I will miss him and his smile.”