Atlanta hits 100 homicides for 2021, ahead of last year’s pace

Here are some of the victims of this year's homicides in Atlanta. Top row, from left: Justine Bernard, Lenwood Colbert, Katherine Janness and Vernon Harper. Bottom row: David Mack, Taurean Sanders, Lorenzo Capers and Mariam Abdulrab.

Credit: Family photos

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Here are some of the victims of this year's homicides in Atlanta. Top row, from left: Justine Bernard, Lenwood Colbert, Katherine Janness and Vernon Harper. Bottom row: David Mack, Taurean Sanders, Lorenzo Capers and Mariam Abdulrab.

Credit: Family photos

Atlanta reached a grim milestone following a shooting Saturday and a double shooting Friday night that left two siblings dead.

On Saturday afternoon, a man was found shot multiple times inside a car on Magnolia Way in northwest Atlanta, according to police. The man, identified as 28-year-old Jonathan Pennington, died at a hospital, becoming the city’s 100th homicide victim of the year. No arrests have been made.

Also Saturday, two other homicides remained under investigation. Two victims from Friday night, a brother and sister, were found shot to death inside a car after police responded to a home on Sells Avenue, authorities said. The siblings were identified Saturday morning as 25-year-old Robert Bankston Jr. and 35-year-old Cedrika Smith.

A man detained for questioning at the scene was later charged with murder, Atlanta police spokesman Officer Steve Avery said. LaMorris Willie Godfrey, 35, was booked into the Fulton County Jail early Saturday on charges of murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, online records show.

ExploreAtlanta crime trends, 2011-present

It’s unclear how Godfrey knew Bankston and Smith, but investigators said the three were involved in some sort of fight prior to the shooting.

At the same time, Atlanta officers were still investigating a deadly shooting Thursday on Greenhaven Drive, though it had not been ruled a homicide late Saturday. Also Saturday, one person was in critical condition following a shooting on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

In 2020, the Atlanta Police Department investigated 157 homicides, up from 99 in 2019 and the most in more than two decades. By June of this year, APD reported nearly a 60% increase in homicide cases. That pace has slowed, but the 2021 homicide count is still ahead of last year, when the 100th homicide was recorded on Oct. 1, 2020, crime data shows.

Using figures provided by the department, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported that Atlanta had reached the 100-homicide mark Friday night, but a police department spokesman later clarified that number was “mistaken” and the tally stood at 99 homicides investigated in 2021. By Saturday night, the 100th homicide had been recorded. Three of the cases involve incidents from previous years, but the deaths were ruled homicides in 2021.

Violent crime remains a priority for Atlanta leaders and the police department, and new initiatives are in place to tackle the problem. As the political races for both mayor and City Council seats heat up, violence has also become a part of campaigns.

In June, APD Chief Rodney Bryant announced a summer plan to fight crime, which included targeting the hardest-hit areas, addressing gun violence and gangs, and increasing officers’ presence.

ExploreAtlanta’s 2021 homicide victims

“We’ve seen an uptick in crime throughout Atlanta and I want to reassure the citizens of Atlanta that we will be vigilant,” Bryant said. “We want to be able to put more police officers out on the street. So we’re adjusting our administrative personnel as well, where they will be deployed out into areas to supplement the day-to-day patrols that you are seeing.”

Days later, an increased police presence in the Lenox Square area helped officers quickly locate two teenagers of shooting and critically injuring a security guard, an APD commander said. The department has also used social media to remind citizens that misunderstandings can be resolved without gunfire or other violence.

Late last week, APD announced more restructuring plans, including adding a mini-precinct in Zone 2, which includes Buckhead, to focus on traffic calls. The move will free up other officers to focus on higher-priority calls and investigations, the department said.

In July, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced her plans to create an office tasked with reducing crime. Bottoms in March announced other plans, which include the hiring of 250 more police officers; expansions to the city’s camera network and license plate reader systems; and the addition of 10,000 more streetlights in the city by Dec. 31, 2022.

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August 20, 2021 Atlanta: A memorial to Katherine Janness has grown on the 10th Street entrance to Piedmont Park as seen on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. While there have been numerous violent incidents in and around Piedmont Park over the years, investigators believe that Katherine Janness’ fatal stabbing was the first homicide to occur inside the park in more than a decade. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

August 20, 2021 Atlanta: A memorial to Katherine Janness has grown on the 10th Street entrance to Piedmont Park as seen on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. While there have been numerous violent incidents in and around Piedmont Park over the years, investigators believe that Katherine Janness’ fatal stabbing was the first homicide to occur inside the park in more than a decade. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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August 20, 2021 Atlanta: A memorial to Katherine Janness has grown on the 10th Street entrance to Piedmont Park as seen on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. While there have been numerous violent incidents in and around Piedmont Park over the years, investigators believe that Katherine Janness’ fatal stabbing was the first homicide to occur inside the park in more than a decade. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Bottoms has blamed the increase in crime in part on the coronavirus pandemic, stating that Atlanta isn’t the only city where violence has surged.

“Because our state was open, and there were many people coming into our city, we were starting to see an uptick in crime before many other major cities, and unfortunately what we saw was just not something happening in Atlanta,” Bottoms said last month.

In response to a request for comment Saturday morning about the number of Atlanta homicides, the governor’s office said it’s clear Atlanta is facing what the office called a public safety crisis.

“It is also evident that more street lights, an office of violence prevention, shelving plans for a police and fire training center, and more committees to study crime aren’t the answers,” according to a statement from Gov. Brian Kemp’s office. “The mayor and City Hall need to empower and support APD — not make officers wary of being fired or publicly vilified for doing their jobs. These brave men and women deserve to know that elected leadership has their back.”

The governor’s office also said they would do “everything in our power” to bolster state law enforcement efforts to partner with APD and other police departments to reduce violent crime in metro Atlanta.

The mayor’s office did not respond Saturday to a request for comment on the homicides.

Last week, the mayor’s office released a database that tracks uses of force by Atlanta officers. The public dashboard displays information about at least 47,000 arrests and 501 use-of-force reports involving some of the city’s 1,600-plus officers. Up to 335 officers have been involved in use-of-force cases since 2019.

Investigators have made arrests or issued warrants in nearly 60 of the 2021 cases, according to police department data. To protect investigations, the department does not always confirm when a suspect has been identified but has not been arrested.

Some of this year’s arrests have included high-profile cases, including in the July 2020 death of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner and the Aug. 13 death of bartender Mariam Abdulrab.

Earlier this month, a second suspect was charged with murder in Secoriea’s death, more than a year after she was shot and killed at a makeshift roadblock in southwest Atlanta. Jerrion McKinney, 23, was arrested by the GBI. McKinney and another suspect, Julian Conley, have been indicted in the child’s death, the Fulton County District Attorney recently announced.

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08/12/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Charles Hampton, Jr., second from left, joins APD members as they investigate a homicide scene at Lakewood Avenue SE and Terrace Way SE in Atlanta’s Lakewood Heights community, Friday, August 13, 2021. The body of Mariam Abdulrab was found in the area. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

08/12/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Charles Hampton, Jr., second from left, joins APD members as they investigate a homicide scene at Lakewood Avenue SE and Terrace Way SE in Atlanta’s Lakewood Heights community, Friday, August 13, 2021. The body of Mariam Abdulrab was found in the area. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

caption arrowCaption
08/12/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Charles Hampton, Jr., second from left, joins APD members as they investigate a homicide scene at Lakewood Avenue SE and Terrace Way SE in Atlanta’s Lakewood Heights community, Friday, August 13, 2021. The body of Mariam Abdulrab was found in the area. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Abdulrab, 27, was reported kidnapped early Aug. 13 as she returned to her southeast Atlanta home after work. Four hours later, her body was found and she had been shot multiple times, according to police. A suspect, DeMarcus Brinkley, was taken into custody the same day after he crashed his SUV in Spalding County while officers attempted to stop him.

Other cases remain unsolved, including the death of 40-year-old Katherine “Katie” Janness, found stabbed to death in Piedmont Park in late July. The FBI is assisting Atlanta police in the investigation, but no suspects have been publicly identified.

The family of Mayco Rodrigue is among the grieving loved ones eager for answers. In May, Rodrique was shot as he rode in a friend’s car on Ga. 400, according to Atlanta police. The father of six and grandfather of two died from his injuries when a bullet entered his back and struck his heart, his family said.

“It was a complete shock,” said Kanika Rodrique, his wife of 16 years, days after his death. “He was enjoying life and someone stole that from him. And I’m really upset and angry.”

Among the 2021 homicide cases are at least seven cases where a person traveling inside a car was shot and killed. Roadway shootings have killed 15 people this year in metro Atlanta and surrounding counties, and a majority of the cases remain unsolved.

“I’m really looking for justice for him,” Kanika Rodrique said.

Anyone with information on any homicide cases can submit a tip anonymously to the Crime Stoppers Atlanta tip line at 404-577-8477, online at www.crimestoppersatlanta.org or by texting CSA and the tip to CRIMES (274637). Tipsters do not have to give their name or any identifying information to be eligible for a reward.


CITY OF ATLANTA HOMICIDES

2016: 111

2017: 79

2018: 88

2019: 99

2020: 157

2021: 99 on Aug. 21

Source: APD/FBI crime data

THE VICTIMS

Go to ajc.com for a closer look at the cases and the victims, based on reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.