Police: Drugs may have played role in shooting of GSU student

Atlanta police suspect that a Georgia State student shot and killed Wednesday night outside his loft apartment was dealing drugs and have not ruled out the possibility it played a role in the homicide.

Max Fiandt, a 20-year-old sophomore majoring in marketing, was shot in the back of the head at the sprawling Pencil Factory Flats & Shops complex near downtown. Police said they believe Fiandt was shot while struggling with at least one of two men seen fleeing the building at around 9:30 p.m.

Inside Fiandt's apartment, police found small quantities of marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

"We have some information that the victim might have been selling marijuana," Atlanta Police Maj. Keith Meadows said.

Meadows said Thursday that police did not have any significant leads.

"It's going to take us some time," he said, adding police are questioning each of Fiandt's three roommates.

One of Fiandt's roommates heard a struggle at the door and came out to check, but after hearing a gunshot, he ran back into his room, Meadows said.

Witnesses told detectives that two black men in their 20s and wearing dark clothing where seen running away from the building.

Fiandt, who graduated from South Forsyth High School, was described by friends as a happy-go-lucky student who always seemed to be wearing a smile. He worked landscaping on the weekends, was committed to maintaining his HOPE scholarship and loved the outdoors. He planned to go camping next week over spring break.

"He was the nicest person," said Diana Schweinbeck, a 19-year-old GSU student from Alpharetta who knew Fiandt well. "It was a bad situation he got involved in, but that doesn't describe him as a person. He was so friendly, so outgoing."

Taylor Kristine Gann, a Georgia Perimeter College student who knew Fiandt since high school, said he was genuine and accepting and stood in judgment of no one. He would sit in the park and play chess with the homeless, listening to their stories because he enjoyed it, she said.

"Since his death, a picture has been painted of Max as a sketchy guy who was caught up in sketchy situations," she said. "This couldn't be further from the truth."

Fiandt was gentle and "all about keeping the peace and literally would not hurt a fly," Gann said. "That is what makes it so hard for those who knew him to imagine that he would be involved in a heated altercation that would lead to his death. The whole situation is unreal and completely tragic."

In recent years, GSU has erected dormitories downtown to try and give its students a more traditional college campus setting. Many students have migrated to nearby apartments and lofts. The Pencil Factory is a short walk from campus across the Decatur Street bridge over the Downtown Connector.

On Thursday, bewildered and grief-stricken students filtered out of the complex. Some said they had been unaware of Fiandt's killing until a parent called them that morning or when they met members of the news media outside.

"I'm shocked and taken aback and I'm scared," said Ciera Jacks, a 21-year-old GSU junior from Monroe. "I think I might find somewhere else to live because I don't feel safe anymore."

Taylor Bone, a GSU junior and another Pencil Factory resident, called the shooting unsettling.

"But it's downtown Atlanta and unfortunately none of this surprises me very much," he said. "That's why we keep our doors locked. Any measures you can take, I take them."

The 188-unit Pencil Factory is 90 percent occupied and about 20 percent of the apartments are rented by students, although not all attend GSU, said Teri Losaw, area manager of Perennial Properties, the Atlanta firm that developed the Pencil Factory.

"This has been a shock," Losaw said. "We've notified our residents that a crime occurred and will take care of them as best we can."

Staff writer Mike Morris and photographer John Spink contributed to this article.