Resident fatally shoots three masked teenagers who were attempting a robbery, police say
Authorities work at the scene of a deadly shooting at a residence in Conyers, Ga., on Monday. (John Spink/AP)
Brian Jenkins says he hasn’t slept since Monday morning. He keeps thinking about what he saw out his bedroom window after dozens of shots rang out around 4 a.m. — a teenager flailing on his lawn, clutching a wound on his chest and repeating two words: “I’m dying.”
“Relax,” Jenkins remembers telling the boy. “An ambulance is on the way.”
“I told him that he wasn’t going to die, and he died,” Jenkins told The Washington Post.
Jenkins is haunted not only by the boy’s last moments but by what he says he learned later: the shooter was his friend and neighbor, a Georgia homeowner who authorities say fatally shot the three masked teens who tried to rob him in his front yard.
One of the teens used a handgun to fire toward three intended robbery victims before the homeowner responded with shots of his own, officials said. Deputies are investigating the incident as a potential “stand your ground” case of self-defense, Rockdale County Sheriff Eric Levett said Monday, according to media reports.
Jenkins said his neighbor, who has yet to be identified or charged, is horrified by the deaths but recalled acting on instinct.
“It is very, very tragic for these young men … to die like that,” said Jenkins, who said he is acting as a spokesman for the neighbor. “It just hurts me. I’m just crushed. And so is the shooter.”
None of the three people targeted in the robbery were hurt, according to the sheriff’s office. But one of the teens died at the scene while the other two died at a hospital. Two were 16 years old; the third was 15. All were from Conyers, Ga., the area where authorities say the attempted robbery also occurred.
The Georgia case joins a national debate over stand-your-ground laws fueled by high-profile cases such as the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin that helped launch the Black Lives Matter movement. Initially declining to arrest Martin’s shooter, who was ultimately acquitted after claiming self-defense, police invoked Florida’s version of the controversial statute that, in at least 25 states, affirms a person’s right to meet force or the threat of it with force without trying first to back away.
Georgia allows people to take deadly action when they have a reasonable belief it is necessary to protect themselves or others from death or serious injury, or to prevent a felony that involves the use or threat of physical force. The state’s stand-your-ground law provides even more protection for people who use self-defense.
“You don’t have to run back into your house if there’s a stand-your-ground law,” said John Donohue, a law professor at Stanford who has researched stand-your-ground and gun policy.
But he cautioned that new details in the Georgia case could complicate a stand-your-ground defense: For example, the statutes do not permit you to shoot someone who is running away.
Authorities are still investigating Monday’s events and have interviewed the three alleged robbery victims as well as neighbors, the sheriff’s office said.
Jenkins said the shooter was just returning home — he’s often away working as a truck driver, he explained — when he encountered the teens in the dark.
A statement from the sheriff’s office describes only an “exchange of gunfire,” but Jenkins recalls dozens of shots from what sounded like two different weapons, the second more powerful than the first. Another neighbor, Carlos Watson, told a local news station he heard five shots from a handgun and then “a slew of shots” from what sounded like an assault rifle.
Officials did not name the teens killed, but relatives have identified two of them as Isaiah Reid and Jaime Hernandez. The two are brothers, according to local news outlets that cited relatives and friends.
LaShawn Thornton, identified as the brothers’ aunt, told local outlet 11 Alive that the family is still looking for answers about what the teens were doing Monday and whether any of them were shot in the back while running away.
“There are three teens that are dead, now,” she told 11 Alive, standing among more than a dozen grim-faced family and friends. “And we all loved them.”
Thornton declined to speak to The Post on Tuesday evening.
Some with legal expertise weighed in to call Monday’s tragedy a clear case of self-defense.
“I see this as assault — several crimes, felonies being committed — and the person, the homeowner, did exactly what he needed to do, which is protect himself, protect people in his house and protect his property,” one defense attorney, Darryl Cohen, told 11 Alive, noting that the fact the alleged attack took place in the dark would make the homeowner’s fears of a threat “even more credible.”
Jenkins told The Post he worries that stand-your-ground laws can be misused to justify fearful reactions based in racial prejudice, as many of the statutes’ critics have argued. But he said he also believes that “every human being should be able to defend themselves, period.”
“Someone has a mask on and approaching you at four in the morning, the likelihood is they’re trying to exact bodily harm,” he said.
Jenkins has watched the pain of Monday’s events play out on all sides: He’s talked not only with his neighbor but with a crying young woman who identified herself as the girlfriend of Jaime Hernandez, the boy Jenkins found bleeding on his lawn.
“I said to her, ‘Young lady, I know you’re hurt,’ ” he recalled. “ ‘You’re going to hurt some more.’ ”