Atlanta records 158th homicide of 2021, passing 2020’s total

Atlanta police have investigated 158 homicides since the start of the year. 
(File photo)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

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Atlanta police have investigated 158 homicides since the start of the year. (File photo)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

Atlanta surpassed 2020′s historically high homicide tally on the last day of 2021 when two people were found shot to death hours apart in the northwest part of the city, authorities said.

Friday’s homicides were the 157th and 158th investigated by Atlanta police in 2021. Authorities investigated 157 homicide cases in 2020, the most since 1996.

Atlanta police Chief Rodney Bryant hoped his department would finish 2021 with fewer cases, but several killings in the final weeks of the year pushed the city over that mark.

ExploreAtlanta’s 2021 homicide victims

Atlanta police said a man’s body was discovered just after 3 a.m. Friday when officers responded to a call about a person shot in the 2000 block of Bethel Drive near Joseph E. Boone Boulevard.

The body of another man was found shot to death about eight hours later in the back of a car parked along Bolton Road.

An officer was patrolling the neighborhood about 11:15 a.m. when he came across a “suspicious vehicle,” said Lt. Ralph Woolfolk, APD’s homicide commander.

“Subsequent to that the officer did locate a deceased individual in the rear of the vehicle,” he told reporters. Investigators recovered ballistic evidence from the scene, but it’s unclear if they have identified any suspects. The victim appeared to be in his early 30s, Woolfolk told Channel 2 Action News.

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The city's 158th homicide victim was a man in his early 30s who was found shot to death in the back of a car in northwest Atlanta, officials said.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

The city's 158th homicide victim was a man in his early 30s who was found shot to death in the back of a car in northwest Atlanta, officials said.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

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The city's 158th homicide victim was a man in his early 30s who was found shot to death in the back of a car in northwest Atlanta, officials said.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Both shooting investigations are ongoing and the incidents don’t appear to be related, police said.

The department recorded 99 homicides in 2019. Cases surged in 2020 amid the pandemic and continued unabated through 2021.

On Jan. 4, 2021, the city recorded the first two homicides of the year.

Investigators believe Jonathon Middlebrooks, 54, was shot on King Alfred Drive by his son, 24-year-old Joshua Middlebrooks. The younger Middlebrooks was charged with murder.

The same day, Ernesto Anderson, 32, was shot in the head while driving on I-20 westbound near Capitol Avenue, according to police. The father of four later died from his injuries. No one has been charged in the case.

On March 16, 22-year-old Robert Aaron Long was arrested after a shooting spree killed a total of eight people, including four in Cherokee County and four in Atlanta. It was the first of two shootings in Atlanta that killed at least three people.

Long was sentenced in July to four consecutive life sentences after a guilty plea in Cherokee. He is still awaiting trial in Fulton County, where District Attorney Fani Willis is seeking the death penalty.

By June 2021, APD reported a nearly 60% increase over last year’s homicide tally. The same month, Bryant announced his plans to fight a summer crime wave, which included targeting the hardest-hit areas, addressing gun violence and gangs, and increasing officers’ presence.

“We’re doing everything that we possibly can to expand our response to violent crime,” Bryant said. “But violent crime cannot be fought with just police alone.”

Those efforts paid off days later when two teenagers accused of shooting a Lenox Square security guard were quickly apprehended.

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After the approval vote of the Public Safety Training Center this week, Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant addresses address questions about the facility, its location and the concerns of the community Thursday, Sept 9, 2021. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

After the approval vote of the Public Safety Training Center this week, Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant addresses address questions about the facility, its location and the concerns of the community Thursday, Sept 9, 2021.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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After the approval vote of the Public Safety Training Center this week, Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant addresses address questions about the facility, its location and the concerns of the community Thursday, Sept 9, 2021. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

August would prove to be the deadliest month of 2021 for detectives, who investigated 25 homicides. Within hours of recording the 100th homicide, three men were fatally shot in a southwest Atlanta parking lot not far from police headquarters.

Departments leaders have ramped up recruitment efforts after more than 200 officers retired or resigned in 2021. Nearly 160 more left between January and mid-December, records show. There are 1,550 sworn officers on the force, well below the budgeted number of 2,052. More than 100 recruits are being trained but are not yet sworn officers, a department spokesman said recently.

Bryant has said police morale has improved since 2020, when then Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard acted swiftly to criminally charge several officers involved in use-of-force incidents. City leaders and criminologists argue that having more officers patrolling city streets wouldn’t necessarily prevent the recent surge in violent crime.

Officials say the majority of Atlanta’s killings stem from disputes between people who know each other.

ExploreGun violence hits towns across Georgia

“Most homicides are actually an emotional act that happens instantaneously, which makes it difficult to intervene,” Bryant recently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, noting police can’t be everywhere. “I could have 1,000, 2,000 police officers, but we don’t have the ability to go in one’s home.”

City leaders have noted that Atlanta isn’t the only place dealing with a surge in gun violence. At least a dozen major U.S. cities shattered all-time homicide records in 2021, some of which were set in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools and businesses, leaving millions of Americans unemployed.

Outside metro Atlanta, smaller towns have also grappled with a surge in homicides.

Crime was the central campaign issue of the 2021 mayoral race in Atlanta, and Mayor-elect Andre Dickens has said he plans to give Bryant 100 days before deciding whether to keep him in charge of the police department or begin a search for a new chief.

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December 1, 2021 Atlanta - Mayor-elect Andre Dickens talks on the phone at his campaign headquarters on Wednesday, December 1, 2021. Andre Dickens, the Atlanta native who first beat an incumbent eight years ago for a spot on the City Council, defeated Felicia Moore in a runoff election to become Atlanta's 61st mayor. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

December 1, 2021 Atlanta - Mayor-elect Andre Dickens talks on the phone at his campaign headquarters on Wednesday, December 1, 2021. Andre Dickens, the Atlanta native who first beat an incumbent eight years ago for a spot on the City Council, defeated Felicia Moore in a runoff election to become Atlanta's 61st mayor. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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December 1, 2021 Atlanta - Mayor-elect Andre Dickens talks on the phone at his campaign headquarters on Wednesday, December 1, 2021. Andre Dickens, the Atlanta native who first beat an incumbent eight years ago for a spot on the City Council, defeated Felicia Moore in a runoff election to become Atlanta's 61st mayor. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Bryant took over the department in an interim role following the departure of former Chief Erika Shields in June 2020. She stepped aside as chief and eventually resigned after the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks, who was killed after a struggle with Atlanta police officers. Bryant, named permanent chief in 2021, has expressed interest in staying in the role if the new mayor wishes to keep him on.

“I’ll stay as long as I’m needed and I’m able to contribute something to this department,” he said. “The mayor-elect and I will have a conversation and we’ll make our decisions from there.”

Arrests have been made in at least 82 of the 2021 cases, according to department crime data, and warrants have been issued in at least six others.

ATLANTA’S 2021 HOMICIDES BY MONTH

January: 9

February: 12

March: 12

April: 9

May: 16

June: 13

July: 13

August: 25

September: 13

October: 11

November: 16

December: 9

Source: APD crime data