Families of Atlanta homicide victims push for end to violence

(Contributed photos)

(Contributed photos)

A father of five who escaped a rough upbringing to start a family. A 22-year-old son with a passion for writing rap songs. A 73-year-old Vietnam veteran known for always protecting his loved ones.

Almost 50 people have been killed in the City of Atlanta so far this year, and the victims make up a group of diverse ages and backgrounds.

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IN-DEPTH: Learn more about the 46 homicides in Atlanta so far this year

And about 15 cases — 30 percent of the homicides — remain open, meaning no one has been arrested, according to Atlanta police.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution caught up with three victims’ family members — one mother, one daughter and one sister — who pushed for an end to homicide and crime in Atlanta.

They had mixed views on how to solve the problem, but were all left asking the same crucial question: Why?

“I want to know, why did they do that to my son?” Natasha Bruner, a mother from Decatur, asked.

“Who told them that they could play God and take my brother away?” said Essie Parker, who lost her brother in mid-July.

“There was nothing he could’ve done. He didn’t really pose a risk,” said Stephanie Orr, questioning the shooting death of her father.

All three victims had overcome hardship early in life, and made strides toward personal and professional success. Now, their loved ones are left reeling.

Here are their stories.

Energetic and on-the-go

Cory Roberts was on track to turning his life around.

The 22-year-old never graduated high school but was taking steps to get his GED and then enroll in some college classes.

“He thought he was going to be an architect or something when he grew up,” his mother, Natasha Bruner, said.

Cory Roberts was found dead in a park in northwest Atlanta. (Credit: Channel 2 Action News)

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Those plans were forcibly upended in January, when Roberts was suffocated and killed, his body left in a park in northwest Atlanta. His hands were bound when two children made the gruesome discovery on Jan. 27.

He was the 11th homicide victim in Atlanta of 2017.

“I think about it every day. I think about him every day, missing out of my life,” Bruner said.

Police have made no arrests in the case, but believe the suspect was someone Roberts knew.

Bruner described her son as “energetic,” “on-the-go,” “always moving.” He ran track in high school and was naturally built and athletic, something his siblings were always envious of.

IN-DEPTH: Homicides in Atlanta down this year, compared with 2016

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In his spare time, Roberts liked to write rap songs about his own life. He was also working on writing a book, a copy of which his mom still has at home.

She urged anyone with information about what happened to her son to contact Atlanta police or Crime Stoppers.

Violence, Bruner said, has become “out of control.” Just a week ago, the son of one of her friends was killed outside of a local convenience store.

“Violence can happen anywhere, it can happen to any family,” she said. “I just never thought that it would happen so close to home.”

‘Protector of all’

Otha Orr was not a conventional man and did not lead a conventional life.

He was a martial arts expert, served in a combat role in Vietnam and was a massive jazz and blues fan.

“Coltrane, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations,” his daughter, Stephanie Orr, said, listing off a few of the myriad artists he adored.

Otha Orr (center). Photo courtesy of Stephanie Orr

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That’s why after he was gunned down in southwest Atlanta, the man’s funeral did not include a traditional eulogy by a pastor, but rather the sounds of the music he loved and fun stories told by close loved ones.

“He was loved by all that encountered him,” his daughter said. “He was a very caring person, to a fault; in fact that is actually what cost him his life.”

The 73-year-old was shot and killed outside an apartment building while he and his brother were helping their niece move out of her boyfriend’s place, Stephanie Orr said.

According to police, an argument ensued outside of the apartment, and the boyfriend pulled a gun. Orr said her father stepped in to calm the situation down and protect his brother. What resulted was a fight over the gun, and Orr was shot and killed.

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He was the 36th homicide victim in Atlanta of 2017.

The suspect, Donald Woods, later turned himself in.

Orr was known for being a “protector of all” with many family members relying on him for help, protection and care, his daughter said.

This tendency traces back to when Orr served in Vietnam for 18 months. At one point, Orr and two other soldiers were stuck in a minefield with gunfire coming from both sides. But Orr got them all out safely, which Stephanie Orr said made her “so proud.”

She didn’t hear this story until years later, when one of the men located Orr and caught up with him.

The shooting death of her dad does not change how she feels about gun violence, she said.

“I’m not anti-gun; however, I feel like gun laws should be strict in the sense that when it comes to career criminals or people that have violent pasts, violent histories, they should be held at a higher extent of the law,” she said. “At no time would I ever pull a weapon out if my life was not put in jeopardy.”

Life was on the upswing

Michael Henley didn’t have it easy growing up.

He came from “The Bluff,” an area on the west side that became infamous for its high crime rate, his sister Essie Parker said. On top of that, Henley was mixed race — his father was black and his mother was white — a trait Parker said didn’t help their situation.

Michael Henley (second from right) with his childen. Photo courtesy of Essie Parker

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But the 40-year-old was able to “finally get out of there,” settle down and have five kids, Parker said. Henley worked as a club promoter, a job he enjoyed because of the money he made, his sister said.

Life seemed on the upswing for Henley — until he was found slumped over the steering wheel of a car on July 22 in south Atlanta. He had been shot multiple times through the window.

He was the 45th homicide victim in Atlanta of 2017.

“I’m just hurt. I just wish I could see my brother again.” Parker said.

Henley’s kids range in age from 2 to 17.

“His oldest daughter, it’s very hard for her right now because they were very close,” she said. “His oldest son … has to realize that he’s about to be the man of the house. He’s taking that very hard.”

The death is especially hard for Henley and Parker’s mother.

“My brother was her first child, that was her only son. I didn’t even know how to tell her that he was gone,” Parker said.

A week and a half after Henley’s death, police were still investigating, and his family was left looking for answers. Parker even took matters into her own hands, walking around the neighborhood and interviewing residents who might have information about her brother’s shooting.

Henley’s death hardened Parker’s stance on gun violence, after her brother became the latest victim in the city.

“I really wish they would get rid of guns, man. I think guns get into the wrong people’s hands, and they’re cowards, because a real man would fight with his hands and not a gun,” she said. “It’s senseless.”

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