The face-off barely registers at first, drowned out by the din of shopping carts and small talk.
Witnesses said they could hear the two men arguing in front of the Kroger on Memorial Drive and North Hairston Road but paid little notice.
There was no ignoring what came next – the rat-a-tat-tat of a semi-automatic rifle fired nonchalantly into a car occupied by a mother and her 2-year-old son.
It came without warning and without reason, captured by a witness’ cell phone camera, who provided the footage to Channel 2 Action News.
But it’s the sounds, not the sights, that linger – the anguished screams of a mother trailing her husband as he cradled their bleeding son in his arms, who was hit by the gunfire. Clearly panicking, he carries the little boy into and back out of the store, surrounded by frantic shoppers uncertain whether to seek cover or run to safety.
The toddler, shot in the abdomen, is expected to survive. He remains in stable condition at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.
Those who witnessed the chaos unfold remained shaken long after it ended.
“He was crying really hard,” said Betelehem Sheferaw, 19, unable to get the toddler’s tears out of her head.
Even veteran lawmen were taken aback by the brazenness of Wednesday afternoon’s shooting, triggered when the father of the boy confronted the shooter after observing him steal a chain off another man’s neck just moments before.
“It had to be very clear that the child was in the vehicle and he had absolutely no regard for the child or any of those witnesses,” DeKalb County Police Chief Cedric Alexander told reporters.
Investigators are confident they’ll find the suspect. Kroger’s surveillance cameras produced several clear shots of the man, last seen walking briskly behind the supermarket, dressed in a black T-shirt and an Oakland Raiders cap.
Alexander said it’s likely the gunman had an accomplice waiting in a nearby vehicle.
Besides the shooting, the suspect is also wanted for the chain snatching outside a neighboring Chase Bank branch.
The father of the shooting victim was leaving the bank when the alleged theft occurred. The suspect fled on foot, briefly ducking into another store between Chase and Kroger.
When their paths crossed again, the unidentified good Samaritan decided to confront the thief, police said, parking his car in front of the grocery store’s main entrance.
Witness Jamilia Adams, 41, said she saw the two men yelling at each other. There was some benign physical contact but no fisticuffs.
The suspect pulled away, according to Alexander, and then, as evident on the cell phone video, promptly walked up to the good Samaritan’s car and fired up to 15 shots.
It was a surreal scene, described by one witness on Twitter as something “out of a movie.”
Police have offered a $7,000 reward for any information leading to the gunman’s capture.
“Someone out there knows who he is, and we ask them to please let us know,” said Alexander before adding the grim reminder. “A 2-year-old was shot by this individual, We’ve got to get this guy off the streets.”