A seven-year-old Georgia girl has died days after she was struck by a stray bullet during a Christmas shopping outing with her family, according to local media reports. Kennedy Maxie died Saturday evening at a local hospital where she was being treated, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office told CBS station WGCL.
The girl lived in Cobb County and attended a local elementary school, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Our hearts are broken by the senseless murder of Kennedy,” Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a statement released to the station. “While the Atlanta Police Department has significant leads in the apprehension of those responsible, it does not erase the pain felt when a beautiful, vibrant, and loving child is tragically taken from her family.”
According to the Atlanta Police Department, the girl was shot in the head while riding in a car with her mother and aunt Dec. 21 after leaving a popular Atlanta shopping mall. The child’s aunt told police she heard gunshots, and when she realized the child had been struck by gunfire, continued driving to a hospital.
Investigators believe the shot may have been fired during a dispute between multiple males in the parking lot of a Saks Fifth Avenue, Atlanta police Lt. Pete Malecky said last week. Malecky said police don’t believe the child, the car or any of her relatives were the intended target of the gunfire. It’s not clear whether one or more people opened fire during the dispute, Malecky said. No one else was injured.
Malecky said investigators were combing through surveillance video in an attempt to identify a suspect or suspects.
“We at APD are sickened each time we hear that another person was shot, severely injured, or killed by gun violence,” the department said in a statement. “It is especially disturbing when small children are the victims of these acts.”
The child’s death comes as homicides in the Atlanta area and across the country are sharply rising during the coronavirus pandemic. The killing marked 155 murders in the city this year, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, making 2020 the deadliest year in the city since at least 1998. With days still left to go until the end of the year, the number of 2020 homicides in Atlanta is up more than 50% since last year, when police investigated 99.
A study of homicide data from 21 U.S. cities including Atlanta through the end of October, found there were 610 more homicides in the summer and fall of 2020 than during the same period in 2019. Homicide rates increased by 42% during the summer and 34% in the fall compared to the summer and fall of 2019, the study found.
“We are seeing a unique increase of gun violence here throughout the Metro and nationally, and it is very concerning,” said interim Atlanta police chief Rodney Bryant.
A $15,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest in the child’s death.