‘It just startled me.’ Travis McMichael dialed 911 days before shooting

NEW: Travis McMichael's legal team plans news conference 

In the months before the Feb. 23 shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, residents in the Satilla Shores neighborhood outside Brunswick reported thefts, trespassing and activity they deemed suspicious to police and posted to the neighborhood’s Facebook page and Nextdoor account a description of a man who’d been entering a home under construction, according to police records. Some of the social media posts included security camera footage of the man inside the house, records said.

On the night of Feb. 11, Travis McMichael was driving his red pickup truck past the construction site when he spotted someone he deemed suspicious, according to audio of a 911 call obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I was leaving the neighborhood and I just caught a guy running into a house being built,” McMichael told the dispatcher. “When I turned around, he took off running into the house.”

McMichael, 34, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 64 are charged with felony murder and aggravated assault in the fatal shooting that occurred 12 days later.

Arbery, who was 25, liked to jog in the neighborhood, his family has said. Security camera footage recorded the day of the shooting shows a person believed to be Arbery entering the construction site and leaving minutes before the encounter with the McMichaels that left Arbery dead.

“Our office has reviewed the surveillance video which appears to show a person, believed to be Ahmaud Arbery, entering a property under construction,” a statement from the legal team representing his family said after the clip was made public. “This video is consistent with the evidence already known to us. Ahmaud Arbery was out for a jog. He stopped by a property under construction where he engaged in no illegal activity and remained for only a brief period.”

During the Feb. 11 call to 911, Travis McMichael told the dispatcher he’d seen a man at the construction site and was backing up his truck to check on things.

“I’ve never seen this guy before in the neighborhood,” he said. He was breathing heavily during the call; the dispatcher asked if was okay.

“Yeah, it just startled me,” McMichael responded. “When I turned around and saw him and backed up, he reached into his pocket and ran into the house. So I don’t know if he’s armed or not. But he looked like he was acting like he was.”

McMichael told the dispatcher that he was in his truck, across the street from the construction site, while as many as four neighbors were out looking for the man. Neighbor Diego Perez said he was armed when he left his home and walked up Satilla Drive that night. Gregory McMichael joined the search and also was armed, Perez said.

The 911 call, placed at 7:27 p.m., summoned police to the construction site on Satilla Drive.

“We’ve been having a lot of burglaries and break-ins around here lately,” Travis McMichael told the dispatcher, adding that his gun had been stolen from his truck in January. His home is a few doors down from the one under construction.

He described the man as having short hair and standing about 6 feet tall, wearing red shorts and a white shirt.

The police report from the Feb. 11 incident said the owner of the home under construction, Larry English, had an ongoing issue with trespassing on the property. The report said English lived nearly two hours away but he had installed security cameras that alerted him whenever someone entered the home. The report of the person in the security camera footage described a black man of slender build, standing about 6 feet tall.

English’s security cameras pinged his phone the night Travis McMichael dialed 911. Security camera footage shows someone walking through the house and looking around. English said nothing was taken from the home.

Arbery was black. The McMichaels are white. The incident has drawn national attention and local action including several recent rallies in Brunswick. A number of groups including ACLU-Georgia, Black Voters Matter, the Rainbow Push Coalition and the Georgia NAACP have joined to support the JustGeorgia Coalition, which plans a Saturday caravan from Atlanta to Brunswick for a 2 p.m. gathering at the Glynn County Courthouse.

“We find comfort in knowing that justice-seeking people all over Georgia believe that we have the will and resources to demand safety for all communities,” Southern Center for Human Rights Attorney Tiffany Williams Roberts, co-organizer of JustGeorgia, said in a statement. “Through working collaboratively we can address the criminalization of black communities that ultimately caused Ahmaud Arbery to be killed.”

About the Authors