A man in Conyers, Georgia, who shot and killed three teenagers after they allegedly tried to rob him at gunpoint could be protected under the state’s “stand your ground” law, the Rockdale County Sheriff said Tuesday.
Around 4 a.m. on Monday, two 16-year-olds and a 15-year-old allegedly approached a group of three individuals in a front yard with their faces covered and attempted to rob them.
Police say one of the teenagers brandished a handgun and fired several shots at the residents of the house, prompting one of the would-be victims to return fire, fatally striking all three teens. One teenager died on the scene; the other two died later at a local hospital. The teens have not been officially identified.
“It was five shots and then it sounded like a handgun,” neighbor Carlos Watson told Atlanta’s WSB-TV. “Then I heard somebody have an assault rifle. And it was a slew of shots that came out.”
Other neighbors who overheard the altercation told the station the man who returned fire lives in the home and is protective of his mother, who was at the home at the time.
“It could be a ‘stand your ground’ type case, based on the preliminary [information] that we have learned so far,” Sheriff Eric Levett said at a press conference Tuesday. Levett cautioned that it’s still “very early” in the investigation.
Georgia enacted a “stand your ground” law in 2006. It permits the use of deadly force in self-defense if someone believes their own life is at risk.
At least 24 other states have similar versions of the law, 10 of which, including Georgia, explicitly state that an individual may “stand his or her ground.” That’s according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan legislative organization.
The laws have come under scrutiny after George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in Florida in 2012. Even though lawyers representing Zimmerman didn’t invoke Florida’s “stand your ground” law in his defense, a juror told CNN at the time it did influence their decision to return a verdict of “not guilty.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.