Three men were fatally shot in a southwest Atlanta parking lot not far from Atlanta police headquarters early Sunday morning, just hours after detectives opened their 100th homicide investigation this year.
Officers responded to the area of Whitehall and McDaniel streets near I-20 about 12:45 a.m., where they found three men between 35 and 45 years old who had injuries "consistent with gunfire," Atlanta police homicide commander Lt. Daniel Genson said. All three victims were pronounced dead at the scene.
"Currently, we are at the preliminary stages of the investigation to identify witnesses and what other evidence is available," Genson said.
The relationship between the three victims is not clear, police said.
In 2020, Atlanta reported its most homicides in more than two decades, and cases are up again this year. The city did not eclipse 100 homicides until October last year.
Late Friday, a brother and sister were found dead in a vehicle in southwest Atlanta, and another man died at a hospital after being discovered with a gunshot wound in a car on Magnolia Way on Saturday in northwest Atlanta.
The man on Magnolia Way was found just before 4 p.m., police said in a statement. He was rushed to a hospital in critical condition before dying from his injuries, marking the 100th investigation into a homicide that police have opened this year.
The triple homicide at McDaniel and Whitehall streets happened about nine hours later.
Surpassing 100 homicides is a grim milestone that reflects an increase in violent crime that Atlanta police and city leaders have been combatting for more than a year.
In 2020, the Atlanta Police Department investigated 157 homicides, up from 99 in 2019. By June of this year, APD reported nearly a 60% increase in homicide cases. That pace has slowed, but the 2021 homicide count is ahead of last year when the 100th homicide was recorded on Oct. 1, 2020, crime data shows.
Candidates call for urgent action
A spokesman for Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms did not respond to a message seeking comment about the triple homicide.
Violent crime has emerged as one of the top issues of the mayoral campaign.
The major candidates to succeed Bottoms, who is not running for reelection, expressed sorrow for the loved ones of the slain and said urgent action is needed.
Several of the candidates said expanding the police force is important, but that issues go far deeper than a shortage of sworn officers.
Councilman Antonio Brown said many homicides involve victims and assailants who know one another, and conflict resolution is essential to prevent altercations from escalating into murders.
Brown has proposed a Department of Public Safety and Wellness to respond to non-emergency calls and provide care and services to residents 24 hours a day, a substantial expansion of the city's current Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiative (PAD).
Answers are not as simple as hiring hundreds of officers to restore the force to 2,000, Brown said. He said that level of law enforcement staffing did not solve issues facing the city and he would rather see "community policing" that gets officers out of their vehicles and onto the streets where they can learn their communities.
"Militarizing Atlanta police is not going to solve the problem," Brown said.
Brown is currently under federal indictment for charges including wire fraud involving alleged acts that occurred prior to his election as a councilman. He has pleaded not guilty.
Councilman Andre Dickens said Atlanta "has reached the sad milestone of 100 homicides far too soon."
"Human life is too precious to allow this violent crime spike to continue," he said. "We must adequately support APD, attract more federal resources to stop gangs and guns, and engage all our community partners — business, nonprofits, clergy and ( Atlanta Public Schools) — to make Atlanta streets safe."
Dickens said his safety plan will use "smart technology and more officers to patrol hot spots throughout the city and present a deterrent to senseless crimes like the ones that are occurring."
Sharon Gay, a lawyer and former top city official under former Mayor Bill Campbell, said in a statement "we cannot accept the horrendous wave of homicides in our city as a new normal." She has pledged an enlarged and better-trained police force and a crackdown on code violators, including "unlicensed or improperly licensed bars and music venues."
"The magnitude of the problem requires a response of even greater magnitude," she said. "Our police, of course, play a key and difficult role in handling and seeking to prevent these homicides while enhancing overall public safety. But attention to the needs of our neighborhoods also must play an important role if we are going to reverse this bloody trend and develop lasting public safety in our city."
Gay pledged to work closely with Gov. Brian Kemp's office and other regional governments.
"We need to think in broad terms. Crime is often an ugly manifestation of other troubling community issues," Gay said.
City Council President Felicia Moore said Atlantans are tired and angry about waking up to headlines of more violence. She said there is grieving in every neighborhood.
"I want to make sure we're looking at this comprehensively," Moore said. Social services are one piece of the puzzle, but so is the capacity of the court system and jails.
She said the city needs to work with Fulton County to ensure accused criminals who should remain locked up aren't released before their court hearings. The city detention center, which Bottoms and allies have sought to convert into a center for equity with community services, could shoulder more of the inmate population.
Moore said the city's nightclubs are an important industry, but like Gay, Moore said serial violators in the city's nightlife scene must be addressed.
"Most importantly ... we've got to set a tone in the city of Atlanta (that) the crime that is happening is not acceptable and we as a community don't accept it and we don't accept allowing it to define who we are as a city and we're going to everything possible to change it," Moore said.
Former Mayor Kasim Reed, Bottoms' predecessor who is again seeking the mayor's office, shared his response in an email.
"Every life lost represents a family mourning the loss of a mother, a father, a sister, or brother," Reed said. "We cannot accept this loss of life as the new normal as violent crime continues to surge.
"This crisis requires hands-on leadership and an approach that is both tough and smart on crime," he said.
Staff writers Shaddi Abusaid and Alexis Stevens contributed to this article.
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