He rambled to reporters after a downtown Atlanta shooting. Then, police say, he hijacked a bus (2024)

As police responded to reports of multiple people shot at a downtown Atlanta food court, Joseph Grier was on the sidewalk outside, rambling to reporters about his mental health, criminal record and banking history.|

ATLANTA — As police responded to reports of multiple people shot at a downtown Atlanta food court, Joseph Grier was on the sidewalk outside, rambling to reporters about his mental health, criminal record and banking history.

“I’m bipolar, I’m gonna tell you all that, and I’m off my medication for like two weeks,” Grier said Tuesday afternoon, appearing agitated and adding that he felt like a “snitch” for describing what he had seen.

Just a short while later, police said, he hijacked a commuter bus, ordering the driver at gunpoint to hit the gas and sending panic through the seats. By the time the bus rolled to a stop some 40 minutes later, authorities said, Grier had fatally shot one passenger and led officers on a dramatic chase through three counties.

The food court shooting and the bus hijacking — only a couple of hours and a few blocks apart — created a sense of chaos in Atlanta. In the aftermath, city leaders decried the prevalence of guns on the streets, but were quick to reassure residents and tout statistics that show Atlanta's violent crime declining.

Authorities said Grier took a gun from another man on the bus bound for a suburban Gwinnett County park-and-ride lot 26 miles (42 kilometers) away, fatally shot that passenger and threatened to shoot the driver if he stopped. Despite Grier's warnings not to use phones, at least one passenger did, calling 911 and leaving the line open, according to Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum.

That allowed police to better understand the delicate situation onboard, Schierbaum said, as the bus careened down an interstate and through side streets, sometimes ramming vehicles in its path.

“You have an individual saying ‘If you stop this bus, I’m going to kill the driver,’ which then means that the whole bus could overturn, could run over a ditch or run over a bridge and everyone could die,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said. “But you also have a man that we know was shot. So he has a limited amount of time.”

The chief said police would examine what they could have done to stop the bus more quickly, but added that no one can foresee every scenario.

“Sometimes there’s not a game plan, and you have to craft a way right then," Schierbaum said. "And we saw that yesterday,”

Grier, 39, was led from the bus in handcuffs and booked into the Fulton County Jail on more than two dozen charges, including murder. He was being held without bond Wednesday, and online records didn't list an attorney who could comment on the charges.

Schierbaum said investigators have found no connection between Grier and Jeremy Malone, 34, who is accused of shooting three people at the food court in the Peachtree Center complex.

In his interview with reporters outside the food court, Grier said he was in “extreme mode" when he saw the shooter. Grier talked about the importance of protecting himself, pulling a box cutter out of his pocket and repeatedly saying he couldn’t get a gun because of his felony criminal record.

Schierbaum and Dickens said they believe Grier's actions were linked to mental illness — though studies show that the vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent.

“Was he having a mental episode for that brief moment triggered by police sirens, triggered by activity that he’s hearing, or was he already that day having a mental episode (and) he was just in that area?” Dickens said. “All of that will play into our investigation.”

In his interview with reporters seeking witnesses of the food court shooting — including one from The Associated Press — Grier rambled for more than three minutes, saying he had seen a man he believed to be the shooter confront a woman outside the food court. Grier said that after the shooting, he ran.

“I protect myself, I can’t get a gun, you know what I’m saying?” he said. “So my thing is protect yourself like you’re in chain gang. I did prison time.”

At a news conference Wednesday on the city's “summer safety plan” — scheduled before Tuesday's shooting and hijacking — Schierbaum told reporters that investigators believe Grier didn't have a gun when he boarded the bus.

Schierbaum said 17 people were on the bus, including the driver. The man who was shot — Ernest Byrd Jr., 58, according to the Fulton County medical examiner’s office — was taken to a hospital and died. Schierbaum said investigators believe Grier took Byrd's gun and shot him with it.

Byrd's family said he was a building engineer who had lived much of his life in New York City and Marlton, New Jersey, before moving south. A lover of travel, his Masonic lodge and family, Byrd was engaged to be remarried, they said.

“He was a man known for his unwavering dedication to resolving conflicts and protecting others,” relatives said in a statement.

Dickens said both of Tuesday's shootings were the “result of too many people having guns in their hands.” He noted that both suspects have lengthy criminal records — Malone had 11 prior arrests, while Grier had 19 — and were ineligible for gun ownership because of prior felony convictions.

Dickens said city officials want to have “a conversation about what is the proper way to sentence someone that has committed that many crimes, some of them with guns, some of them that have hurt people or taken property. And so let’s unwind this and look back at these individuals’ history with law enforcement.”

Schierbaum also called for action on repeat offenders: “They either need assistance through court-mandated programming around drug addiction and mental health, or they need to be out of society’s circulation. And judges have to be part of this conversation.”

Grier is charged with one count of murder, one count of hijacking a motor vehicle, 13 counts of aggravated assault, 14 counts of kidnapping, one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and one count of possession of a firearm or knife during the commission of a crime.

Malone's charges in the food court shooting include aggravated assault and reckless conduct. He was being held without bond in the Fulton County Jail, and no lawyer who could comment on charges was listed in online court records. Schierbaum said Malone and the three food court victims are all expected to survive.

He rambled to reporters after a downtown Atlanta shooting. Then, police say, he hijacked a bus (2024)
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