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'That was my baby boy' | Mother condemns gun violence that killed 15-year-old son near Atlantic Station

The shooting broke out on 17th Street among a group of young people Saturday night.

ATLANTA — The mother of 15-year-old Cameron Jackson, Tiffany Smith, condemned gun violence Thursday afternoon, speaking publicly for the first time since her son's shooting death.

Jackson died Wednesday after getting shot near Atlantic Station over the weekend. The shooting also killed 12-year-old Zyion Charles.

Smith remembered her son as a driven boxer, who had taken up the sport when he was nine years old and practiced six days a week.

“Cameron was my whole world," she said. "So now I have to figure out what’s next. That was my baby boy.”

Smith says she’s now devoted to finding a solution to give children a safe place so that no other mother has to go through what she did after finding out what happened to her son. She said it's a community issue - one that she and Zyion's mother fell victim to.

"Listening to the other mother speak about not having the resources, you know in my situation we had all the resources," she said, noting she had homeschooled her son and taken him to boxing practice to give him the environment to thrive. "The one thing that we were unable to deal with was the community, the environment, the city. And that right there is something that I'm committed to transforming in Atlanta."

She said her son loved his family and animals, and his boxing coach Zahir Raheem said he had dreams of going to the Olympics in the sport. 

“It’s like they took my dream," Raheem said. "I went professional, and he was the one I knew I could vicariously live through again. These kids don’t get these guns themselves. As adults, we need to find a solution collectively to change this forever."

The coach characterized Jackson as a young man who was mature beyond his years, someone who would offer a word or a hand even to adults who came into the gym who were experiencing emotional problems or mental health issues.

"I'm from Atlanta, I've been here all my life, and you see all the violence on TV, but you never think that one day you would be waking up and it would be your child," Jackson's mom said. "I wanted to speak because this is not about Cameron, this is not about the other little kid, this is about all of our children."

The shooting broke out on 17th Street among a group of young people Saturday night who had been escorted off the Atlantic Station property, allegedly for being unruly.

Jackson was initially in critical condition. Police said Wednesday he was the only intended target in the shooting.

The family's attorney also refuted speculation that Jackson was part of a gang. To note, Charles' family also said the 12-year-old was not a member of a gang either.

"Right now, there's only speculation about things like that," attorney Asten Hall said. "Anything people are saying, they're not facts and we'll let the facts speak for themselves."

Raheem echoed the sentiments.

"I've never witnessed anything about those affiliations or actions with him," he said. "Cameron was a great kid. He did well, he came to the gym every day and he was driven."

Atlanta Police released video footage from the night of the shooting, where a group of teens was seen antagonizing people afterward at a MARTA train station. The department said anyone with information leading to an arrest could receive a $10,000 reward. 

In a press conference Sunday, Mayor Andre Dickens pointed to the heightened presence of police that was already in place at Atlantic Station on the night of the shooting. He also stressed the importance of parents keeping track of where their children are.

Dickens said that while offering condolences to parents of the victims, he had several say they didn't even know their kids were at Atlantic Station, let alone knew of a curfew in place there.

Some city leaders have called for a citywide youth curfew in the wake of the shooting, and other incidents of gun violence among young people.

The mother of 12-year-old Zyion, Deerica Charles, also shared emotional remarks before the Atlanta City Council Public Safety Committee.

She said she had been worried about his behavior and his involvement in groups breaking into cars but had felt helpless trying to steer him back onto a safer path.

The mother said she called police repeatedly asking them to help her get her son off the streets, but that juvenile services couldn't detain him because "he had to really hurt somebody for them to keep him."

"But now he's hurt; I'm hurt. I wanted him to feel how it feels to be set down and told, 'This is life, Zyion,' but now I'm hurt," she said. "My son is gone."

Deerica Charles asked the city leadership to "help these young boys while they still have a chance."

"Because I don't have a chance no more," she said.

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