Neighbors rally for change after 2 killed, 4 injured in Atlanta park shooting

Terence Denson got into the first car he saw and told the driver to go to the hospital as he held a 6-year-old girl who had been shot at a southwest Atlanta park Sunday evening.

He had come to Rosa L. Burney Park to enjoy Softball Sunday, a community event that has been held in the Mechanicsville neighborhood for years. Never had he imagined that a shooting would take place there.

Gunfire erupted around 7 p.m. after an argument apparently broke out during the ballgame, according to Atlanta police. Six people were shot, including the 6-year-old, who was in critical condition when she was transferred to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston Hospital. Rashad Rogers, 31, and April Sparks, 33, later died at a hospital, authorities confirmed.

Explore4 dead, multiple injured during violent weekend in Atlanta

The gunfire caught Denson by surprise. But when the 35-year-old Mechanicsville resident heard a mother calling out for help, he realized the severity of the situation.

“Everyone was chilling, then 30 minutes later — gunshots,” said Denson, who lost his 15-year-old son to gun violence a few months ago. “Then it stopped for a couple seconds and then I hear a lady yell, ‘My child!’ After losing my child, I automatically reacted to save the child.”

Neighbors and community organizers gathered across from the Windsor Street park Tuesday evening to honor the victims and declare in solidarity that the violence has to stop. Many of them said that Sunday’s shooting was sparked by people living outside of Mechanicsville who came to the park to enjoy the game.

“Tonight we are rallying for peace. There have been way too many lives lost in this community,” said Janikqua Cutno, an organizer with CHRIS 180, an Atlanta-based welfare organization that serves children and youth with behavioral and emotional challenges. “Today we have decided to step up. Today we have decided to take a stand. And we have decided to say we’re going to stop shooting and start living.”

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Any death is a tragedy, police Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said from Sunday’s shooting scene, but it’s especially unfortunate when children are involved.

“We are just asking the citizens to just find a way to resolve conflict without weapons,” Hampton said during a media briefing. “We are just asking people to step away. We are asking people to let bygones be bygones.”

But even with the recent gun violence, residents of Mechanicsville say their neighborhood is safe. For Denson and neighbor Kenny Redding, it’s a community where everyone looks out for each other.

“We’ve got a peaceful community overall. You can tell this is a safe community,” Redding said. “If you come here on a regular night, you’ll see a lot of people jogging and walking their dogs.”

LaShannon Dickey was raised in Mechanicsville and now raises her two children in the neighborhood. As a regular at the park, she never viewed it as an unsafe space and refuses to do so now. She hopes that neighbors can overcome the tragedy and create a stronger and safer community.

“There’s a lot of things that we can change, there’s a lot of stuff that we can work on,” Dickey said. “Everybody has the same agenda. It takes everybody to do this. This is our safe haven, not only for us but for our kids as well.”

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

DeMicha Luster, founder of The Urban Advocate, a grassroots community organization which planned Tuesday’s event, said that the area surrounding Rosa L. Burney Park is “a hotspot for crime.” She hopes that efforts to improve the neighborhood are taken seriously by officials. Most importantly, she hopes that authorities listen to neighbors and their suggestions for improvements.

“How many times do you see people’s actual lived experiences be considered for the interventions that are applied? The piece that tends to be missing are community changes from the bottom up; it’s usually from the top down,” Luster said.

Deputy Chief Timothy Peek told the City Council’s public safety committee Monday afternoon that the investigation was still active and the homicide unit was “working those leads as fast as they can.” While there were no cameras in the park, investigators have released what appeared to be surveillance images of a person of interest and asked for the public’s help to identify him.

ExploreAPD: No suspect identified in park shooting that killed 2, injured child

No suspect has been publicly identified in the case, and no arrests have been made.

Tipsters can call the homicide unit at 404-546-4235 or remain anonymous, and be eligible for rewards of up to $2,000, by contacting Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8477, texting information to 274637 or visiting the Crime Stoppers website.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez