Nichole Villafane thought the conviction of those responsible for killing her son — a 21-year-old National Guardsman and art student named X’avier Arnold — would bring her joy, or maybe indifference.
It did neither.
Zion Wainwright, 15, and Qutravius Palmer, 24, were both found guilty Tuesday morning in Arnold’s shooting death the day after Christman 2013 on a Kirkwood bike trail. DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Linda Hunter sentenced both to serve three life sentences plus 15 years.
The case’s resolution, Villafane said, was bittersweet.
“When it actually came down and the truth came out, I felt sad for everyone,” Villafane told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday. “That these two boys threw their lives away for nothing at all. And took away a life that was aspiring to do so much.”
Arnold, two years into classes at the Savannah College of Art and Design, was killed while walking down a trail with his girlfriend, Xenia Aims, and another friend, Ibrahim Sanusi. The 21-year-old known as “X” had told his mother for days about plans to check out the graffiti adorning Kirkwood’s many abandoned industrial buildings.
Wainwright, just 14 at the time, reportedly began taunting the group of friends. Arnold and Sanusi were trying to defuse the situation when the youngster pulled out a 9mm handgun and demanded Sanusi’s wallet.
Arnold, Sanusi, Wainwright and Palmer were tussling when Sanusi was shot in the thigh. According to testimony, Palmer was struggling with Arnold and urged Wainwright to fire.
He did, striking Arnold in the back of the head.
As the assailants fled, an EMT who lived near the scene attempted to save Arnold but could not. He died at Grady Memorial Hospital.
“It was chaos,” Aims, the girlfriend, said during the trial that began last week.
Wainwright was apprehended within two days, and Palmer turned himself in on New Year’s Day 2014.
Two days later, friends, family and military representatives gathered at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia to pay tribute to Arnold, a 2010 graduate of Chamblee High School who spent three years as a geospatial engineer in the National Guard.
Residents of the Kirkwood community also expressed their support in the wake of Arnold’s death, planting yellow signs with large X’s throughout the neighborhood. Many of them remained up on Tuesday, more than 18 months later — in fact, Villafane said, more were being placed.
A vigil was planned for Tuesday evening in the spot where her son was killed.
“X’avier was a very free spirit and was very open,” Villafane said. “No matter what walk of life you came from, you were a friend.”