Wanted for allegedly killing a Gwinnett County police officer, pursued by SWAT teams and U.S. marshals, 18-year-old Tafahree Maynard never strayed far from home.
When he was finally cornered in a tool shed Monday morning after some 44 hours on the run, Maynard was less than two miles away from the Snellville house he shared with his mother. Refusing to surrender, The husky teen was shot and killed after lunging at officers with a lawnmower blade, according to police.
“The danger to the community is over,” Gwinnett Police Chief Butch Ayers announced at a press briefing less than an hour later.
But key questions remain.
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What prompted the teen to shoot 30-year-old officer Antwawn Toney, who was responding to a call about a suspicious vehicle on Crump’s Landing Road, less than two miles from the spot where Maynard’s life would end? And what help, if any, did Maynard get from family members or associates in the nearly two days he stayed on the run?
Regarding the first question, Ayers said, “There were some illegal drugs, some marijuana, and four firearms in the car,” Ayers said. “What prompted Mr. Maynard to open fire, I’m not sure we’ll ever know.”
As police were announcing the end to the manhunt, Toney’s family was arriving in Atlanta from California. The popular officer will be laid to rest Wednesday morning at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville.
Ayers said he is “100 percent confident” Maynard was responsible for Toney's death, citing physical evidence found on the scene.
Maynard and 19-year-old Isaiah Pretlow, 19, were hanging out in their car with another, unidentified person —who police say was not involved in the shooting — when they spotted Toney and another officer. Police say Maynard immediately began firing, shooting Toney four times.
At that point, according to Ayers, Maynard fled on foot. Pretlow sped away in his car before crashing near Shiloh Middle School. Thirty minutes after the crash, he exchanged gunfire with a pursuing officer before escaping into the woods. He was arrested late Saturday night by marshals and charged with aggravated assault. He is being held without bond.
Police initially believed Maynard was still in the car with Pretlow when the car it crashed, which likely helped the murder suspect evade capture far longer than his friend.
On Sunday, police searched “dozens” of locales, according to Sgt. Jake Smith, but turned up nothing. Speaking with reporters early Sunday evening, Smith said it was “50/50” that Maynard was still in Snellville.
“It’s equally possible he got in a car and is in Arizona now,” he said.
James Joyner, acting commander of the U.S. Marshals Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force, said it was time to broaden the search beyond Snevllville and Gwinnett.
Then, at 3 a.m. Monday, police received a tip that convinced them Maynard was still in the area
“We were pretty confident,” Ayers said. “But again you don’t know. Everything was pretty quiet to being with. But once we started getting the tips we were confident we were going to find him.”
It eventually led them to a quiet neighborhood with Christmas-themed street names off Hewatt Road. There, a few hours before his capture, a resident walking his dog spotted Maynard sitting on a rock, basking in the sunlight.
By then, up to 90 police officers — many clad in SWAT fatigues — had set up a perimeter, going house to house looking for Maynard, who had scurried into a tool shed at 2552 Mistletoe Lane. It’s unclear whether the residents of the home knew he was there.
A little before 11 a.m., two officers approached the shed, opened the doors and found the suspect. They initially deployed a Taser on Maynard but he refused to put his hands up. Ayers said he was concealing the lawn mower blade, and when the suspect lunged towards the officers they responded with gunfire.
Now, said the chief, “the Gwinnett County police department and the community are able to turn their attention to supporting Officer Toney.”
Ayers remembered the officer, who was about to celebrate his third year on the force, as a “bright shining star” in the department.
He recalled a photograph of Toney, taken a couple of years ago, after he had rescued apprehended a fleeing perpetrator into a muddy swamp. Mud caked his uniform up to his chest.
“And he had a big smile on his face,” Ayers said.