In the hours before his death, 27-year-old Quintas "Shun" Harris' mind was fighting him again.
His family says they’d first seen his troubles emerge when he was discharged from the Navy in 2011, angry, disappointed and feeling like he’d let everyone down. Eventually, Harris, a Lithonia High grad and father of two, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and PTSD.
On Wednesday, he told his mother he was pursued by voices telling him people wanted to kill him. She begged him to take his medicine.
“If you don’t get back on your medication, you’re going to end up dead, in jail or in a mental health hospital,” Iwoinakee Billups recalls telling her son.
Now Harris is gone, killed in what DeKalb County police called a shootout with officers, and the family is left mourning and hurt by media coverage the mother feels portrays her son as a "thug."
Worse, they’re left wondering how his death could’ve been prevented.
In an interview Friday, they described him as a generous, loving and endlessly kind soul who felt misunderstood and struggled to accept the help he needed. They also feel he was failed by institutions that were supposed to help him, including the military, health care workers and the criminal justice system.
When her son was in the Navy, Billups remembers getting calls in the middle of the night. He had joined when he was 19 and got stationed as a logistics specialist at Naval Air Station Lemoore in Kings County, California. He ended up on a tour of duty through China, the United Arab Emirates, Japan and other countries, Billups said. (The military didn’t immediately fulfill a request for records of Harris’ service Friday.)
The mother said he was scared on the phone.
“The fear of not being able to come home. The fear of the unknown,” she said.
Harris started to drink.
After a while, he felt he had a problem and went to his superiors, who put him in a treatment program. When he finished, he was given an administrative discharge from the Navy, the family said.
As Reginald Billups sees it, the Navy tossed his son into the wind.
“It’s our opinion the military failed him,” the father said. "Once there was an acknowledgement of him having a problem there was not enough (follow up).”
In 2011, the year of his release from the Navy, Harris was arrested four times on alcohol and drug charges.
Back home with family, Harris was depressed, often upset and apologetic. He said he wasn’t good enough for his parents, who both have master’s degrees, because he was kicked out of the service.
Things got better after his mental illnesses were diagnosed and he got medicine. He worked as a cook at restaurants around Atlanta and tried to get ahead.
He met a woman who had his son, Quamere, in 2012.
Then Harris had an idea.
“He wanted to see what it felt like to raise his child without medication,” younger sister KChar’Edda Harris said.
Taking the drugs had made him feel numb. Not taking them made him feel less numb but more depressed and started him on a path toward more trouble.
Harris was arrested in 2013 and 2014 on charges ranging from obstruction to family violence and stalking his child’s mother.
In 2014, he was found incompetent to stand trial due to mental illness and was hospitalized, according to court records.
In 2015, he and Quamere’s mother had another son, Quamilleon.
The same year, Harris was deemed competent enough to plead guilty to lesser offenses from his 2013 and 2014 arrests. He was sentenced to 24 months on probation.
‘These voices won’t let me sleep’
On Wednesday, management at Maple Walk apartments called DeKalb police on Harris, a resident, saying he was behaving erratically.
Officers came to check on him but left because he didn’t reveal a gun and wasn’t deemed a threat, according to Channel 2 Action News.
The property manager also called his mother.
She called View Point Health — an agency that worked with Harris after his convictions — to say he was having an episode. A worker called Harris and thought he sounded fine, the mother said, but she urged the worker to go visit her son. (A message left at the agency seeking comment wasn’t returned Friday.)
The mother started researching how she could have her son forced to take his medicine. She said she felt upset that the probation office hadn’t worked harder to make sure he took his medication. (The state probation agency declined to comment on the case because of the pending investigation into the death.)
After work, she went to see him. He hadn’t slept in days. He cried in her car.
“These voices won’t let me sleep,” he said. “Momma, they’re saying they want me dead.”
“It’s not real,” she tried to reason with her son, who she always called Shun for his middle name, DeShun.
As she left, she thought she’d gotten through. He said he would take the medicine. She believed him and hoped he’d get some sleep, hoped her son would learn to accept the help he so badly needed.
Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC
Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC
Shortly after midnight, DeKalb police were called back to the apartments. Harris had already fired shots at two men when police arrived, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
He allegedly then turned the gun on officers.
Four returned fire, hitting Harris multiple times, police said. A DeKalb officer was shot in the hand, but his injuries were not life-threatening.
Later in the morning, Harris’ parents turned on the news and saw their son’s apartment complex. The report said a man was shot by police.
The mother turned to the father.
“That’s Shun,” she said.
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