Police found spent rifle rounds near the crime scene

Thomas Jefferson Byrd III’s 14-month-old grandson, Kannon Primus, toddled down the aisle as a keyboardist performed softly in the background at Alfonso Dawson Mortuary in Atlanta.

Resting in a sky-blue casket, Byrd wore a blue suit and a red tie. A handwritten note from his granddaughter, Zaya Crossley, peeked out of his jacket. Decorated with a smiley face, it declared: “I love you, Pop-Pop.”

The Tony Award-nominated actor — who went by the nickname T-Byrd — was shot in the back following an argument near his home in Southwest Atlanta this month, according to police. The authorities have announced up to $10,000 in rewards for help in the case.

At the public viewing for Byrd on Monday, his children called him a loving father who surprised them with trips to Atlanta Braves games and Six Flags America. Byrd graduated from Morris Brown College, completed a master of fine arts degree in dance at the California Institute of Arts and taught elementary school students in Atlanta.

“Beyond the actor, he was a father, a dancer, a choreographer, an educator,” said Shannon Byrd-Crossley, one of his daughters. “He was a whole human being — and most of all a lover. He loved very hard — his children, grandchildren, just everyone.”

Authorities found Byrd’s body in a yard next to his home in Southwest Atlanta with spent rifle rounds, according to police. A report of an injured person brought police to 2257 Belvedere Ave. SW in the early morning of Oct. 3. Byrd lived in a home next door.

Authorities have received nine calls for help on Byrd’s block so far this year, according to 911 logs, including six at the address where his body was found. Among those calls was the one related to Byrd’s killing as well as reports from earlier this year about an auto theft, property damage and a fight involving a weapon. The logs indicate a vehicle was towed from there last weekend.

No one answered the door at the home Monday. The property owner did not respond to a request for comment.

“This is still an active homicide investigation and detectives are following up on all leads but have no suspect information to release at this time,” Atlanta police spokesman Steve Avery said.

Police have recorded 109 homicides in Atlanta so far this year. The city experienced 99 in all of last year.

Born in Griffin, Byrd, 70, acted on stage, on TV and in film, appearing in shows led by acclaimed directors Spike Lee and Kenny Leon. His Tony nomination for best featured actor in a play came in 2003 for his work in August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” on Broadway.

Since Byrd’s death, his family has witnessed an outpouring of love for him from across the nation, said his son, Thomas Byrd IV.

“People really felt connected to him,” he said. “It has been an eye-opener.”

Fellow actors and directors credited Byrd with fully immersing himself in his roles, delivering movingly authentic performances and displaying remarkable humility.

“I have been around so many other actors who, any time there is any kind of a spotlight, any time there is any type of a camera or some attention… many of them just jump up and have to be seen. And Thomas was not like that,” said Nasser Metcalfe, a longtime friend and actor based in New York. “He just wanted the work to speak for him. And if you appreciated his work, then that was great. But he did not need so much praise and adulation from people in general.”

Lee has started a GoFundMe drive that has raised more than $100,000 for Byrd’s children.

On a large screen next to his casket Monday, Byrd spoke in an undated interview with La Donna Williams that was posted on YouTube this month. Williams asked her friend, “Who are your people?” Byrd thought for a moment before citing his mother, grandmothers and aunts.

“Anyone who gets to know me, you are going to get the females in my life, the women in my life,” he said. “They were all sweet. They were giving, loving. And that is who I am. They are largely responsible for who I am today.”

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