One month later, grief and outrage over the death of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner persists – and suspects remain at large.
The rising third grader, who loved TikTok dance videos and “This Little Light of Mine,” died on July 4 when the car she and her mother were in encountered a group of armed people blocking a South Atlanta street. The shooting happened near the burned out Wendy’s, since razed, where Rayshard Brooks was killed by police. Protesters upset over his death had been camped out at the site, envisioning it a memorial in his honor.
Police have said as many as four people fired in the shooting that killed Secoriea, but have made only one arrest. Julian Conley, 19, charged with aggravated assault and felony murder, has said he witnessed the shooting but didn’t fire.
“At the end of the day, I had nothing to do with it,” Conley told Channel 2 Action News while on the way to turn himself in.
Members of the core group of demonstrators who had been camped at the Wendy’s site have said they didn’t know the shooters and that they told the armed group to clear the road before the child was shot.
Civil rights attorney Mawuli Davis, who is representing the child’s family, spoke out Tuesday admonishing anyone with information to come forward.
“There is no ‘code of silence’ when an 8-year-old is shot in the back,” the Decatur lawyer tweeted. “This is not ‘cooperating w/ the police,‘ this is protecting our children. Her life mattered & we can’t be silent on that.”
Secoriea’s death happened on a bloody day in Atlanta – 28 people were shot – and yards from the scene of one of the city’s most notorious police shootings in recent years.
Brooks, 27, was shot on June 12 while trying to flee the scene with an officer’s Taser. Police had been called to the scene because Brooks, who appeared drunk, had fallen asleep behind the wheel in the Wendy’s drive-thru line. He and officers had a cordial conversation for 41 minutes until Officer Garrett Rolfe attempted to place Brooks under arrest for DUI. Brooks struggled with Rolfe and another officer, took the Taser and ran before Rolfe shot him.
Some Atlanta police officers were outraged when Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard charged Rolfe with felony murder and other charges. Officer Devin Brosnan was charged with aggravated assault. Both have been released on bond.
APD officers who felt Rolfe and Brosnan had done nothing wrong called out of work in protest and reported feeling afraid they’d be charged if they had to use force. Officers especially seemed to avoid policing around the Wendy’s. For days, armed men brandished guns, threatened journalists trying to report from the scene and ran an unauthorized security checkpoint near the intersection of University Avenue and Pryor Road. It took negotiations with city leaders, neighborhood residents and the protesters to get the road cleared.
Experts say all these factors, as well as the violence of July 4, likely contributed to the police department’s failure to respond to a report that the road was barricaded before Secoriea was shot.
Police knew for more than an hour before the child was shot that the street was barricaded, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But the documents suggest police didn’t respond to the scene before the Jeep the child was riding in encountered the roadblock around 9:50 p.m.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has said she knew about the roadblock 45 minutes before the shooting, though a spokesman says her office wasn’t aware guns were involved. Interim Police Chief Rodney Bryant learned about the armed blockade roughly 30 minutes before the shooting, according to text messages the AJC obtained.
Had this delayed response happened on a different day, at a different place, in a different summer, officials might be criticized widely for failing to remove the roadblock. But experts told the AJC it was no surprise the police didn’t respond to clear the road, because of the complex and volatile situation in the city and at that intersection.
“It happened on July 4, less than a week after two officers were charged with crimes,” said Georgia State University criminology professor and policing expert Dean Dabney said. “Am I surprised that officers aren’t responding to that area? No.”
Cedric Alexander, former DeKalb County public safety director and policing expert, said the child’s death could be attributed to myriad societal factors that led to the current national unrest. Those factors – including lacking social services, neglected neighborhoods, police abuse – conspired to create a chaotic and delicate situation in Atlanta, not unlike similar situations in other cities. He said it appeared Atlanta officials and police have been earnest in seeking solutions.
“They’re talking about reform, about social change,” Alexander said. “That’s the path forward.”
As for who’s to blame for the child’s shooting, he put it on whoever pulled the trigger.
“Let’s not forget the shooter,” he said.
There is a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the shooters, Secoriea’s family attorney said.
Tipsters can remain anonymous, and be eligible for the cash reward, by contacting Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8477, texting information to 274637 or visiting the Crime Stoppers website.