BRUNSWICK — In this Gateway to Georgia’s Golden Isles, stately Victorian mansions surround quiet downtown squares that were laid out before the Revolutionary War. The town’s moss-draped oak trees and peaceful marshes charm visitors from near and far. But all is not picture perfect in Brunswick.
The shooting of an infant last month has exposed underlying tensions between police and the community and between the haves and have-nots.
Brunswick is the seat of Glynn County, home to some of the nation’s wealthiest zip codes in Sea Island, Jekyll Island and St. Simons Island. But De’Marquise Elkins and Dominique Lang, the two teenagers accused of shooting 13-month-old Antonio Santiago in his stroller during a robbery attempt, hail from a poor neighborhood pock-marked with boarded-up homes. Many in the community believe tragedy will strike again unless more is done to reach out to low-income and black youngsters like them and give them opportunities to break the cycle of poverty.
“There are tons of Elkins and Lanes,” said Pastor Ken Adkins of Greater Dimensions Christian Fellowship. “Because people in both the black and white communities have allowed this to breed.”
Blacks account for 60 percent of the population of the city and whites 36 percent. But those percentages flip-flop when you look at Glynn County, where whites account for 70 percent and blacks 27 percent of the population.
Poverty is concentrated in the areas of the city where minorities live, according to U.S. Census data on the city’s website.
Adkins, who is black, said part of the problem he sees in the community is that only a small segment of well-connected blacks seem to get ahead in Brunswick society, while others lag behind. He says many successful blacks move away to Atlanta or Savannah.
“Who’s left?” Adkins said. “The poor, the uneducated.”
There are more than half a dozen housing projects in Brunswick, and Elkins — the alleged shooter — grew up in and around them, according to Adkins, who pastored Elkins about three years ago while the teenager’s mother was in jail. Born to a teen mom, Elkins, now 17, was living with his grandmother at that time Adkins knew him.
“He was a troublesome kid even at that point,” Adkins recalled. “He had only been with [his grandmother] a month. He was on probation; he had a curfew; and he kept getting referrals in school.”
Several days after the shooting last month, Elkins’ mother, Karimah Elkins, 36, and sister, 19, were jailed on charges of tampering with evidence for allegedly discarding the handgun used in the shooting into a pond. Elkins’ aunt, Katrina Elkins, 33, and his mother are also charged with making a false statement for allegedly providing a false alibi for Elkins.
Karimah Elkins has been jailed 51 times since 1994 for mostly misdemeanors, including criminal trespass, simple battery, shoplifting and theft, according to the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office. His aunt has been jailed 37 times.
During his mother’s stints in jail, De’Marquise Elkins apparently bounced between his grandmother’s and other relatives’ homes. Testifying at a Friday bond hearing his grandson, 78-year-old McKinley Elkins said he saw the teenager almost every day. But the elder Elkins and could not say where his grandson lived at the time, or if he went to school.
De’Marquise Elkins and Lang allegedly confronted the infant’s mother, Sherry West, March 21 while she was pushing her son in a stroller in a historic part of Brunswick.
At Friday’s hearing, Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson introduced in court a Facebook page purported to be Elkins.’ It indicated that he goes by the nickname “Moneyville,” which Glynn County Police gang investigator Roderick Nohilly testified is a slang term for the drug dealers who sling dope in a public housing project in Brunswick called McIntyre Court.
Elkins’ public defender, Kevin Gough, disputed that the Facebook page was created by Elkins. He also said the nickname Moneyville merely refers to an area of the city.
Deputies found multiple tattoos on Elkins’ body when they booked him into jail. The words “Thug Life” are tattooed across his chest with three dots in between them in triangle shape. His upper arm has three burn marks in the same shape. The dots refer to the three places a gang member will end up: the hospital, prison or the morgue, the assistant jail administrator testified at Elkins’ bond hearing.
The teen had two other tattoos on his arm and abdomen of a five-point star and five-point crown — the five points being a symbol of the People Nation, a confederation of gangs of which the Bloods are a part, Nohilly said.
Police say there are about 15 active gangs in the area and that 120 known gang members have been identified. And recently authorities have seen more of a presence of national gangs like the Bloods, according to Nohilly.
Gary Cook, who grew up in Brunswick and knows the Elkins family, said Marquise was involved in football with his son in 7th grade, but his life went off track somewhere.
“De’Marquise has been transferred from family to family,” Cook said. “Kids like that, they come up angry.”
Less is known about Lang.
His grandmother, Anita Brennon, said Friday that the 15-year-old loves people, loved sports and was raised in a good family.
However, she said, his father died in 2008 when he was struck by a ricocheting bullet outside of a Brunswick nightclub.
Brennon said the family didn’t know Elkins and she doesn’t know how her grandson got tangled up in the shooting.
“I doubt he had anything to do with it,” Brennon said.
City manager Bill Weeks acknowledged a need for outreach to troubled kids. He said the city is looking at creating some summer camps and after-school programs to engage more teenagers.
Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering said the community also needs to help by taking a more active role in helping police spot problems.
“There were people that knew or had information before this crime was committed that could have prevented it,” Doering said. “If you know someone is enraged with a firearm and you choose not to say anything, that’s a community problem.”
He declined to go into further detail.
Some residents at the Town Hall meeting expressed frustration that it took a tragedy of this magnitude to get the attention of public officials and law enforcement. One woman said when she called several times to report a drug dealer traveling on a Segway selling dope up and down her street, a dispatcher did not believe her and said it must be a police officer on patrol.
Felicia Harris, a lifelong resident, said she preached a eulogy in November for a 24-year-old man who died in a shooting. She indicated crime has been an ongoing problem, and the police presence insufficient.
“Why is this (Town Hall meeting) just now happening?” Harris questioned. “This hasn’t just started.”
Not every one in the community believes Brunswick is rife with societal ills and they are dismayed to have their town linked to such a horrific tragedy.
A half-dozen businessmen who congregated at their usual breakfast table last week in a corner of Maggie Mae’s restaurant were shaking their head as they glanced over the newest details in the local newspaper.
The shooting has been the talk of the town, with “a new twist every day,”said local businessman Barry Morgan, of Morgan’s Cleaners. But Morgan said he’s content with how police have responded.
Residents fear that coverage of the crime on news outlets nationwide is harming not just Brunswick’s reputation, but tourism, the lifeblood of the community.
The town is full of hard-working, decent people, said State Rep. Alex Atwood, said while stopping in Maggie Mae’s to sip coffee with the breakfast crowd.
Atwood said lately he winces each time he sees news of the shooting on national news. He said the crime is not a reflection of the people who live there. In Brunswick as opposed to in some parts of Atlanta, Atwood said, “I feel safe enough to walk down the street without looking over my shoulder.”
The local NAACP president, Dr. John Perry agreed, saying many people he knows leave their doors unlocked. And he doesn’t believe the crime has caused racial division.
“I think all races felt the same about this incident,” Perry said.
After the shooting of baby Antonio Santiago on March 21, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent reporter Andria Simmons to gauge the community reaction and follow new developments. Simmons spent three days interviewing community leaders, residents, spiritual leaders and law enforcement officials to inform this story.