Families grapple with teens’ deaths days after fatal SW Atlanta apartment shooting

Teens, 14 and 16, killed at one of metro area’s dangerous apartment complexes identified in AJC investigation

Days after two teens were killed in a burst of gunfire at an apartment complex in Atlanta, one of their mothers spoke out publicly as she grappled with the grief of losing her youngest child.

Sitting inside her apartment at The Retreat at Greenbriar complex in southwest Atlanta, Natosha Hinton tried to calm herself before speaking with members of the press. The unit is just 70 steps away from where her son, 16-year-old Justin Powell, was gunned down Saturday. He was shot five times.

“I can’t live without him,” she told reporters gathered in the living room of the unit.

Beside her on an overstuffed grey sofa was Justin’s father, Erik Hinton, age 56. His right arm was wrapped tightly around her shoulders. At one point in the press conference she rose from the couch, her body wracked with sobs and a face full of tears, shed over her son.

Justin was one of the two teens who was killed Saturday when a dispute over social media erupted into gunfire at the apartment complex. The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office on Sunday identified the other slain child as 14-year-old Malik Grover.

The deadly violence underscores the risks residents, especially children, face every day in scores of apartment complexes across the metro Atlanta. High crime and chronic poor living conditions are why the Greenbriar complex on Continental Colony Parkway is among 272 of the metro area’s persistently dangerous complexes, according to an examination by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution examination.

The list created by the newspaper follows a year-long examination living conditions in these complexes and was based on records from dozens of government agencies. That information, now published online by the Journal-Constitution, opens the door to understanding the extent of the housing and living condition problems faced by tens of thousands of metro Atlantans.

Natosha Hinton was quoted in a story that published on AJC.com on Friday that detailed the newspapers efforts and introduced readers to the list of dangerous apartments across the metro area. Hinton was quoted in the story detailing her families struggles. The next day, her youngest son was shot and killed.

The Retreat at Greenbriar has 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.

Ninety-five crimes were reported at the complex between 2017 and 2021, according to data collected by the AJC. Among those are 29 aggravated assaults and one homicide. In Aug. 2019, 26-year-old Tarien Shaquill Colquitt died after he was shot in the head and torso near him home at the complex. In June 2021, a 2-year-old was injured after gunfire rang out as his family was returning home to the complex.

On Saturday, Atlanta police said the episode that ended with Justin’s death started with a social media dispute spilled into real life. Gunfire broke out shortly after 5 p.m. Investigators did not disclose the nature of the dispute but said one group of individuals arrived at the apartment with guns and another group opened fire. Three other children were injured in the shootout: a girl and boy, both 15, and an 11-year-old boy.

The evening of the deadly shooting, members of Justin’s large extended family stood for six hours under a streetlight at The Retreat at Greenbriar, waiting to learn from Atlanta police whether he was dead or alive. They had lost hope by the time they got official word that Justin died in the shootout.

At one point, a gunman shot at Justin from a second-story window at the complex, according to a relative, who asked the AJC to withhold their name from publication for fear of retaliation. Bullets hit him in the legs, the chest, and through his eye. He died almost instantly, the relative said.

“He did not suffer,” the relative said.

Credit: Contributed Family Photo

Credit: Contributed Family Photo

The teen’s father said he was a “normal kid” who liked to play video games and watch TV. Family members said he loved music and had just finished writing a song for his mother.

“He’s a baby,” Erik Hinton said. “He’s not somebody who runs the streets. He was somebody who had a mother and a father, both who are active in his life. He’s not out here robbing or killing or stealing, none of that. He was just a baby.”

Justin was the youngest of 21 grandchildren, and his parents and other relatives worried about his safety. He was a bright student, they said, but had begun to hang out with the wrong crowd. About 18 months ago, Justin’s family members asked police to help get Justin into a “scared straight” program or other supportive services, but an officer told them he could do nothing because Justin had not been arrested.

In September, he was arrested, the relative said, but was only sentenced to 30 days with an ankle monitor. The punishment was not enough to scare Justin straight.

“Kids do not fear guns. They don’t,” the relative said.

Erik Hinton called the fatal shooting “senseless” and said Justin lost his life during a time that should have been safe for people to be out and about.

“This didn’t happen at eleven, twelve, one, two o’clock in the morning,” Hinton said. “It happened about 7 o’clock in the evening, when a 16-year-old should be allowed to be outside.”

The other teen killed Saturday at Greenbriar, Malik Grover, was friends with Justin.

Vickie Grover, Malik’s grandmother, spoke Monday by phone to an AJC reporter. She described her 14-year-old grandson as an outgoing, fun-loving teen who played basketball and football. She said she and her husband raised Malik from birth and tried to give him “the best life.” He would have turned 15 on January 8.

“He loved people and he loved life,” Grover said. She said since his death, children who knew him have reached out to her to share the impact he had on their lives.

“One thing the kids told since his death was that when they felt like nobody else cared, Malik always made sure that he cared,” she said.

Grover said Malik and Justin “weren’t bad kids at all.”

“They came from good families,” she said. But they got caught up in the wrong crowd, she said, and it resulted in them losing their lives.

Grover said she and her family are “devastated and heartbroken” over the loss of Malik.

“There needs to be something done about this gun violence and these kids getting their hands on these guns and taking innocent lives,” she said. “There definitely needs to be a solution. I don’t know what that solution is.”