Rash of Slayings Stun Atlanta
ATLANTA (AP) _ Two decades after the first bodies were found in what became known as the Atlanta child murders, violence has once again thrust this city into the national eye.
This time, during a month of bloodshed, few parts of Atlanta have been spared: Shootings have struck in the suburbs, the inner-city and even in the wealthy Buckhead district.
The victims have been white, black, Asian, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, middle-class, rich, poor, young, old; they have ranged from helpless children to SWAT team officers.
``It’s just mind-boggling,″ said Georgia Hall, who lives across the street from the house where a July 12 murder-suicide left seven dead. ``It’s almost unbelievable that these tragedies are just happening all together. You get to the point where you wonder what’s next?″
That slaying was the worst Atlanta mass killing of the century. It held the mark for just 17 days, when it was surpassed by Mark O. Barton’s shooting spree Thursday in the city’s Buckhead commercial district.
In July alone, 23 people _ including three gunmen _ have died in mass killings in Atlanta.
The toll is apparent on Mayor Bill Campbell, who appeared solemn as he recounted the most recent tragedy to reporters and asked the nation to pray for his city.
``These are unspeakable tragedies. From Colorado to Atlanta, these things occur. We don’t know why,″ Campbell said. ``In the span of 10 days, two deranged individuals have killed 17, perhaps more. I don’t know if there’s any explanation for it.″
Campbell has been one of the most vocal proponents of gun control, filing one of the first lawsuits by cities against the gun industry. But much of the state is pro-gun rights and the Georgia Legislature passed a law blocking cities from filing such suits. Campbell has said he will challenge the state law in court.
Some think he may have more support because of the recent rash of shootings. Among the crimes he can point to:
_ On May 20, 15-year-old T.J. Solomon opened fire on classmates, injuring six at Heritage High School in Conyers, just east of Atlanta. None of the injuries were fatal. Solomon faces a hearing this month to determine if he will be tried as an adult.
_ On July 12 in southwest Atlanta, Cyrano Marks fatally shot his live-in girlfriend, her sister and five children _ aged 9 to 16 _ before killing himself. Family members said Marks was upset over his girlfriend’s intent to break up with him.
The only survivor in the house was an 11-year-old Santonio Lucas, who hid in a closet for eight hours after being shot in the elbow.
_ On July 23, a police sniper shot and killed gunman Greg Smith while he was trying to escape from police by climbing out a bathroom window in an Austell home. Officers said they feared Smith, who had wounded one officer and killed two, was a threat to them and his elderly mother _ still in the house.
The worst was yet to come.
Six days later, the same day one of the officers was buried, gunfire transformed the tinted office buildings and neatly manicured lawns of Buckhead into a field of chaos and violence.
In addition to the nine dead in two day-trading offices, 13 were injured before Barton, a chemist turned stock trader, fled to an Atlanta suburb and shot himself five hours later as police closed in.
``It’s been a tragic year for the metro Atlanta area,″ said Tim Brazie, 27, a paramedic who responded to the Buckhead killings and the Cobb County police shootings. ``I’ve never experienced a year like this before, not this many tragedies in this short amount of time.″
The spate of killings comes exactly two decades after a string of violence that began in 1979 and left 29 young blacks dead. The killings ended in 1981. Wayne B. Williams was convicted in two of the deaths, and police blamed him for 22 others.
City officials are quick to point out that in the current crime spree, none of the shootings were connected, and note declining crime statistics. Preliminary FBI data showed Atlanta recorded a 1.6 percent decline in violent crimes from 1997 to 1998. Murders dropped by one to 149 last year.
As of July 29, the city has recorded 91 murders compared to 83 during the same period last year.
``These kinds of things, unfortunate as they are, can happen anywhere,″ Police Chief Beverly Harvard said. ``It doesn’t matter where you live, it doesn’t really matter where you work. This kind of tragedy can happen.″