SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - George Akins' Jr.'s parents are coping with the loss of their 15-year-old son who was shot and killed outside of a McDonald's on Savannah's Southside Saturday.
"It's hard, but we've been praying mostly that God keep us content with the 15 years that we were able to share with our son," said Ch'loe Akins, George's mom. "He was an awesome kid. Loved to laugh. His favorite thing, other than sports, football and basketball, was getting fresh. He loved to dress."
She said she's seen a tremendous amount of support from family, friends and church members near and far since Saturday.
"It's overwhelming with the lives that he's touched," she said. "As a parent, we raise our children, and we teach them respect, how to be mannerable when they're not with us, and we can only pray that when they're out of our presence that they're actually doing that. But to hear the feedback of how mannerable he was, how respectful he was, the joy that he's brought to many people's lives, how outgoing he was and just to see so many people who loved him, adults thanking me for sharing him with them, I mean, it's been overwhelming."
Metro Police said Saturday's shooting is part of a growing trend of younger youth gun crime.
Eight of the 30 homicides in Savannah in 2017 involved a victim under the age of 21, according to Cpl. Hillary Nielsen, public information officer for the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department. She said one those deaths happened in 2016, but wasn't ruled a homicide until this year.
Sgt. Robert Santoro with SCMPD's Homicide Unit said it's concerning to see gun violence trickling down into younger age groups.
"Obviously, one of the concerning things I've seen since I've been in my position is just juvenile crime, especially juvenile gun crime, the age gets younger and younger it seems like for that, and that's obviously a concerning thing," he said. "Basically, that's a communal problem that we have together. That's not a police department problem. You're talking about the police department, schools, parents. Everybody needs to take ownership of that. That's one thing that I would say that I would be concerned with is the age of some of these folks that are involved in the gun crime. They're pretty young."
Metro Police arrested and charged 16-year-old Jeffery Burton with murder on Monday in connection to Akins' death, and officers said additional charges are forthcoming. The Chatham County District Attorney's Office said the 16-year-old will automatically be tried as an adult.
"I know in my heart that he served his purpose, and even in his absence, God is working through him," Ch'loe said. "Through my son's death, people are coming together. We're mad. I believe I've earned that right to be mad. We're hurting. We're going to miss him. He was more than just my son. He was my friend. We talked about every and anything, so he will truly be missed. He kept this house on their toes. Anybody fell short, he was there to let them know, and he didn't let up until you got it right."
McDonald's Group and local owner and operator John Palmaccio released a statement about the shooting saying in part, "Our thoughts and condolences go out to the victim's family."
The statement also noted the shooting happened in a parking lot behind the McDonald's at 13100 Abercorn St. Metro police said a verbal altercation and confrontation between two groups led to the shooting, and McDonald's and Palmaccio said the shooting victims then came inside the restaurant.
"Our employees immediately called 911," they said.
Ch'loe said George may be physically gone, but his spirit and memories will live on.
"Someone took a body, but his spirit yet lives," she said. "His spirit yet lives. Number 23, y'all will see. God is working through him, and I just thank God for that. He was that guy you would have wanted by your side. That's what they need to know. I think that's where most people are feeling the pain at because if you got to know him, even if it was just a moment or a day, you remembered him because he had that much of an impact on everybody he came in contact with. That's what I want people to remember. If you were a friend of George, you were somebody."
Ch'loe said the football booster club is organizing a candlelight vigil on Thursday night in the parking lot at the intersection of Abercorn Street and Apache Avenue. Both of her sons, George and Jonathan Lee, are on the Windsor Forest High School High School football team. Windsor Forest High School students will release balloons Friday ahead of their football game.
"They've asked me to allow my other son to actually wear his jersey for the rest of the season, so we'll see how that works out, see if he's up to it" she said. "They cared. They loved my boy. He was loved, and he loved everybody."