Killings of young victims, many unsolved, form chilling pattern in metro area

Connie Sims talks about his son, Tyrell, who was recently gunned down at his East Point home.
Connie Sims talks about his son, Tyrell, who was recently gunned down at his East Point home.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

A child is cut down in a drive-by shooting. A teenager on his bicycle is hit by a car and killed, but the driver leaves the scene. An 8-year-old girl in a car with her family is shot dead when armed protesters open fire on their vehicle.

These are just a few stories from recent months across metro Atlanta that illustrate an unnerving pattern: fatal incidents involving young victims with no one to hold accountable.

In the past week, two young victims have died in hit-and-run collisions.

On Saturday morning, Decatur 16-year-old John William Poe was killed in a hit-and-run as he rode his bike on Covington Highway.

In Doraville earlier that week, 12-year-old Amiah Shontae’ Kenney Jackson was in a car with her parents parked alongside an access road, there to help a relative with a flat tire, when their car was struck. They were hit by a Range Rover, fatally injuring Jackson and her emotional support dog.

The driver of the Range Rover, 42-year-old Eric Cirildo Rodriguez, is accused of removing his license plate and running from the scene. Georgia State Patrol troopers were able to track down Rodriguez and he was arrested this week.

Less than two weeks prior, 15-year-old Jaden Williams was found with multiple gunshot wounds at a Fairburn Road apartment complex and taken to a hospital, where he died three days later.

Two days before Williams’ shooting, 11-year old Tyrell Sims was killed in a drive-by shooting outside his East Point home. And on Oct. 15, 13-year-old Brayan Zavala was shot and killed outside his family’s Clayton County home while accompanied by his brother.

Explore2020 has been a deadly year for youths in metro Atlanta

In most cases, no one has been arrested and limited information has been released by the law enforcement agencies working the cases. Only Jackson’s death has led to an arrest.

One key police phrase has become a regular refrain: The investigation is ongoing.

“We are seeing numbers we have not seen in Atlanta as it relates to our murder rate,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said last month, addressing an overall increase in violent crime this year. “We recognize that this is a problem. ... Right now, our eye is on crime in Atlanta.”

Some of these cases also show the difficulty in pursuing crimes befalling younger victims. When DeKalb police responded to the scene of the fatal hit-and-run on Covington Highway in Decatur, the teenager was not carrying any identification. The lack of ID and poor cooperation between different jurisdictions kept DeKalb County police from alerting Poe’s family about his death for several days.

“We had multiple false sightings while we looked for him over the weekend,” Poe’s older brother, Jason Poe, told AJC.com. “But the whole time, his body was in the DeKalb medical examiner’s office.”

In the case of Williams, who was shot multiple times Nov. 5 and died in the hospital three days later, Atlanta police waited more than a week to announce his death. A handgun was found at the scene, and security camera footage from the apartment complex shows a group of men in a stolen black Nissan SUV confronting the teenager, Atlanta police said. However, no one witnessed the shooting, according to the incident report. The Crime Stoppers reward for information about the identity of Williams’ killer has been raised from $2,000 to $5,000.

Among the most public and gut-wrenching deaths came this summer when 8-year-old Secoriea Turner was killed after multiple armed gunmen shot at her family’s car near the site of Rayshard Brooks’ death.

One man who admitted to being at the scene was arrested, but he says he did not fire at Turner’s car. That investigation continues, and the reward for information about Turner’s killers has increased to $50,000.

“We continue to work on that case. We were happy with that arrest,” interim Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant recently told AJC.com. “I was proud of the men and women that worked to bring it to that level of resolution, but there’s still more work to be done.”

The man who was arrested, Julian Conley, is just 19 — a teenager himself. He is far from the only teenager arrested this year for a violent crime or killing, another side of Atlanta’s increase in homicides that is almost equally sad.

A 15-year-old was arrested in September and accused of committing two separate murders in a three-week span. In Cobb, one teenager was killed in an officer-involved shooting in July, and another died in November after police say his 17-year-old friend shot him in the chest.

Though data is not yet available for 2020, statistics from the Georgia Department of Public Health show that deaths of young victims from external causes have decreased each of the past three years in the metro Atlanta counties of Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett.

In 2016, 139 people under the age of 19 died from external causes, which include homicide and unintentional injuries. Last year, that total decreased to 99 deaths.

This year, AJC.com has reported on more than a dozen young victims killed in shootings alone. It’s a number that contains unimaginable grief for the families and communities that have lost young ones.

“I don’t want you to feel what I feel,” Connie Sims, Tyrell’s father, said a few days after his 11-year-old’s shooting death. “And I want you to hug your child. And love them as much as I loved him.”

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