4-year-old killed by celebratory bullet

Four-year-old Marquel Peters loved church. So much so, that he cried recently when he thought he would miss it because a relative was running late.

For the New Year's Eve service, Marquel brought along a video game to play during an intermission.

The next time Marquel returns to his family's church, it will be for his funeral.

Thursday night, Marquel and about a dozen family members attended a service at the Church of God of Prophecy near Decatur.

Marquel was seated next to his mother, Nathalee, while those in the church waited for a 12:30 a.m. concert to begin. Then, those in the sanctuary heard a loud pop. It was almost like the sound of a balloon.

Instantly, Marquel was on the floor, and he was bleeding.

"No one knew what it was," said Garry Peters, Marquel's uncle. "It was just crazy."

When emergency officials arrived at the scene, Marquel was crying, Peters said. Still, there was no obvious indication of what had happened. There was no gaping hole in the sanctuary, and nothing fell from the ceiling.

Except for a bullet that struck the child in the head.

Marquel was transported by ambulance to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, where he later died.

An X-ray at the hospital confirmed that it was a bullet that struck Marquel, his uncle said. Doctors at the hospital had hoped to do surgery on the child, but it was too late.

About 350 people were gathered in the DeKalb County church on Covington Drive at the time of the incident, Senior Pastor Lloyd Phipps said.

Phipps said the church members paused to pray for the child, and then, believing that his injury was not life-threatening, they continued with a planned concert.

The pastor and the parishioners were still in the church when they learned of the child's death at about 3:30 a.m., Phipps said. He said during the concert the boy's family kept him updated on the child's condition, which he believed was improving.

Investigators returned to the church later Friday, where they discovered the point of entry for the bullet: in the roof of the church. Phipps said police believe someone fired a celebratory shot into the air, and it went through the roof on its way down.

"It's one of those things that you just cannot make any sense out of," Phipps said. "This lady took her kid to church, which is the right thing to do. And her son got killed because of someone’s irresponsible behavior."

On Friday, the shocked family returned to the church, where they joined other church members in mourning the loss of the little boy. A usually happy boy, Marquel had cried two weeks ago when he almost missed church because a family member was running late.

"He was just a good, smart kid," Garry Peters said.

Now the family plans to return to the church for Marquel's funeral. His death, Peters said, was senseless and could have been avoided.

“They can’t just get out there and shoot," Peters said. “What are you celebrating? You’re out there killing people.”

Police do not have any suspects at this time, said Officer Jason Gagnon with DeKalb County police.

"I'm a faith believer, but it's just hard" Peters said. "Why at church?"