Nichole Villafane found a little joy on her son’s birthday—the joy of knowing that he was a young man who touched many lives.
Xavier Arnold, who had been an engineer in the Army National Guard reserves for three years, would have turned 22 on Jan. 8. Arnold was fatally shot walking with his girlfriend and his best friend along a bike trail in Atlanta’s Kirkwood community the day after Christmas.
Arnold’s murder outraged the community because of the ages of the suspects involved in the violence. Police charged a 14-year-old boy, the suspected gunman, and a 22-year-old man, Qutravius Palmer, with murder and attempted robbery in connection with the shooting.
James Arnold told reporters the fact that a 14-year-old was involved in the shooting made his son’s death even more disturbing.
“I just don’t understand,” he said as he fought back tears.
Arnold’s mother sought to make some sense of the shooting by confronting the 22-year-old suspect, demanding to know why he ordered the 14-year-old to shoot her son. Villafane confronted the suspect as he made his way in handcuffs with his head bowed to his first court appearance.
“I’m the mother who sat there and you told that 14-year-old to shoot my son in the head,” Villafane said. “Now that you sat and thought about it, was it worth it? Was it worth it?”
Villafane said the ordeal has been tough for the whole family, but the calls, visits and prayers are helping them to cope.
“It’s been amazing—the outpouring of support from his friends, the community, everyone,” said Villafane, who lives in Stone Mountain. “People have been sharing stories with me about how they have lived off of his words of encouragement, his big smile.“
After the shooting, the Kirkwood community showed its support by posting signs in their yard showing a black letter “X” on a yellow background. The “X,” short for Xavier, was Arnold’s nickname and to send a message that the community wants to stop violence.
Workers from Villafane’s office sent over a catered dinner on Arnold’s birthday to remember him.
Villanfane said her son was a 2010 graduate of Chamblee High School. He had moved home during Thanksgiving from Savannah, where he was enrolled in the Savannah College of Art and Design. He planned to attend classes at the Atlanta campus and spend more time with his 14-year-old brother, Villafane said.
“His brother is suppressing what happened. His death has hit all of us,” Villanfane said.
She said her son’s girlfriend, who was with him when he was shot, has cried a lot. She was shoved during the attack but was not seriously injured. The suspects demanded money, but Arnold had no money in his wallet and a cellphone that didn’t work. The suspects shot Arnold in the head and his friend in the leg. Both men were transported to Grady Memorial Hospital, but Arnold did not survive his injuries.
“We’ve cried together. We’ve laughed together. It’s been one day at a time,” Villafane said of her son’s girlfriend.
Palmer, who is being held in the DeKalb County Jail, is scheduled for a court hearing on Jan. 21.
Pictured above L-R: Nichole Villafane and Xavier Arnold