Fatal shooting of Spelman student exposes campus safety concerns

Jasmine Lynn shouldn’t have had any reason to fear the street intersection on the campus of Clark Atlanta University.

But a fight that students say erupted between some students and non-students ended in gunfire that left Lynn dead from a stray bullet and another student wounded. She died near student housing and the Atlanta University Center library.

“This is so very tragic for a young student to be walking down the street and be hit by random gunfire,” said Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington, who has been under fire about violent crime. “We’re going to spend as much resources as possible to solve this case.”

So far police say they have “a person of interest” who was badly beaten by students at the shooting scene early Thursday.

“He has some knowledge about what was going on,” Pennington said. “We can’t say he’s the suspect. We can’t say if he was the actual triggerman.”

Students complained that the Atlanta Police Department responded to the shooting more quickly than Clark Atlanta campus police. College officials said they’re investigating the response time.

APD records show reports of 25 felonies since July 1 for the Atlanta University Center — which includes Clark Atlanta, Morehouse and Spelman colleges — including four robberies and four assaults. But the university neighborhood borders tougher sections such as Vine City, where community leaders are trying to mobilize neighborhood watches to help police fight crime.

“We have people who come here for an education, and they should be safe,” said Makeda Johnson, chairwoman of the Neighborhood Planning Unit for Vine City. “It is almost like you need a community watch block by block. We need to watch out for people who aren’t from the community because most of the time it’s not people from the community who are causing the problems.”

Lynn, a 19-year-old sophomore at Spelman from Kansas City, Mo., was walking south on James P. Brawley Drive, a public street that runs through the Clark Atlanta campus, when she was shot in the chest. Jerome Jones, an 18-year-old student from Clark Atlanta, was also wounded when he was struck in the wrist by another stray bullet, said Lt. Keith Meadows, head of the APD homicide unit. Clark Atlanta officials said Jones was treated at a local hospital and released.

Meadows said a friend walking with Lynn “actually heard the gunshots, actually saw the weapon and told her to get on the ground.”

“Before she was able to get on the ground, she was struck in the chest,” he said.

Danays Marquez, a Morris Brown College freshman from Miami, said she heard at least five gunshots “back to back.”

Marquez said she walked up to Lynn, who was on the ground.

“She was drenched in blood, and it looked like she was taking her last breath,” Marquez said. “It’s sad because people are here trying to get an education, and you’ve got to constantly be on the lookout because you’re scared somebody’s dying or you’re getting shot yourself.”

According to Lynn’s MySpace page, she was majoring in psychology and minoring in business.

She was a 2008 graduate of Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in Kansas City. In an interview with KSHB-TV in Kansas City, 1st. Sgt. Herman Brown, the ROTC instructor at Lincoln Prep, said Lynn was “truly close to being an angel.”

Spelman flew its college flag at half-staff Thursday to mourn Lynn’s death. As the flag danced in the wind, students from both colleges tried to process the events.

“The entire Spelman community is grief-stricken,” Spelman President Beverly Daniel Tatum said. “We consider our community to be a safe community. We now want to restore normalcy and offer comfort to the family.”

Tatum spoke at a joint news conference with Clark Atlanta University President Carlton E. Brown that was called to express anguish over the deaths and provide details.

Tatum said one of the first things Spelman does at the beginning of each school year is remind students to use common sense and be aware of their surroundings for their safety.

There was every indication that Lynn was doing just that. She was on her way back to the Spelman campus after visiting a friend at Clark Atlanta.

Brown said it is not known yet whether any students were involved in the fight or shooting.

“There is no preparation for this,” Brown said. “You have students here who are feeling their future. And feeling invulnerable is part of how you get there. We have to now rebuild that confidence in them.”

The college presidents emphasized that the campuses were safe — despite the high crime rate in the general area. Atlanta police report that in the area around the Atlanta University Center there was one other homicide earlier this year, when a 49-year-old man was stabbed in a rooming house on Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard. That was the first killing in two years; there had only been eight in five years.

Lynn’s killing generated commentary all day on Web sites and Twitter in which students, alumni and college supporters expressed safety concerns.

Crystal P. Smith, an online journalist who writes on theLoop21.com, said the colleges needed to take a tougher look at security.

“No one can prevent someone else from shooting, but for as much money as Spelman College costs, its students and other students in the AUC need more protection,” Smith wrote. “Black colleges and universities can’t afford to lose their students over something like security.”

Loneia Powell, a 20-year-old Clark Atlanta junior from Columbus, said it is not unusual to hear gunshots near the campus.

“Look at the area we’re near,” she said. “It happens all the time.”

Brown said the Clark Atlanta campus has been looking to close the open segments of James P. Brawley Drive.

“Ours has been a fairly open campus,” he said. “It’s a major connection point for many schools in Atlanta. Ninety-nine percent of the time that’s a beautiful thing.”

Staff writers Marcus K. Garner, Ernie Suggs, Bill Rankin, Mike Morris and John Perry contributed to this article.