Crime fighters team up as Georgia’s new dynamic duo

Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Scene Specialist Daniella Stuart, left, speaks with Asher Williams while visiting him at ClearWater Academy in Tyrone on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. Stuart gives Asher specific lengths to cut evidence tape she uses while working on crime scenes. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Scene Specialist Daniella Stuart, left, speaks with Asher Williams while visiting him at ClearWater Academy in Tyrone on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. Stuart gives Asher specific lengths to cut evidence tape she uses while working on crime scenes. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

GBI agent, teenage student were both brought to America as children

Daniella Stuart met a kindred spirit in 2018 when she volunteered to talk about her job at a school in Tyrone for special-needs students. That day, Daniella, a crime scene specialist for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, showed the children how to capture fingerprints with magnetic powder.

Asher Williams — who has been diagnosed with cognitive delays, a learning disability and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — grew intrigued as Daniella continued volunteering in his classroom. Now, whenever Daniella is not around, Asher invariably asks his teacher at the ClearWater Academy the same questions: “Did she get a call? Did she get a case? Is she working on anything?”

The two became friends and discovered they have a lot in common. Both enjoy helping others. Both are passionate about law enforcement. And both are extremely observant, an important skill for crime-fighting. Daniella eventually came up with an idea to get Asher directly involved in her work, which involves responding to homicides and police shootings.

Under Daniella’s direction, Asher began a new task in his nonprofit school’s career development program this year: cutting “Evidence” tape. Daniella uses the red and white tape to secure bags of clothing, shell casings and other evidence she collects. The tape ensures no one tampers with the contents before they are submitted to the courts for criminal prosecutions.

Using a ruler and following Daniella’s detailed instructions, Asher is brushing up on math, learning the importance of precision, and gaining job skills. Asher, who dreams about working for the GBI, calls Daniella a “pretty cool officer.”

Asher Williams cuts a piece of evidence tape for Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Scene Specialist Daniella Stuart during one of his classes at ClearWater Academy in Tyrone on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. ClearWater Academy is a school for students with special needs. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
Asher Williams cuts a piece of evidence tape for Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Scene Specialist Daniella Stuart during one of his classes at ClearWater Academy in Tyrone on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. ClearWater Academy is a school for students with special needs. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

“I make sure that it is very straight. Then, boom! It is done,” Asher, 17, said recently as he cut evidence tape in his classroom. “When it is done, I lay it out and it is ready to go.”

Asher’s efforts are freeing Daniella to do other important crime-fighting work.

“For him to feel included in what we do, that makes all the difference for me,” Daniella, 32, said, adding she would be grateful to see him one day working for a public safety agency in some capacity, perhaps managing equipment. “He has so much to offer.”

The two have something else in common: They were both brought to the United States as children. Asher’s parents, Beth and Page, met while working as Christian missionaries in Ukraine. After they had two children of their own, they agreed to adopt, a decision inspired by their faith.

“God has blessed us immensely,” said Page Williams, Asher’s dad, who is a senior management consultant with Chick-fil-A. “We had more room to open our hearts to something greater.”

They returned to Ukraine in 2014 amid armed conflict. Russia had just annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. Two months after they arrived, a Malaysian Airlines flight from Amsterdam was shot down over rebel-held territory in Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

The couple kept a low profile as the adoption process stretched for months and as the United States enforced sanctions against Russia. Early on during their visit, they met Asher, then named Artur, in an orphanage in Kharkiv. They adopted a girl, Annalise, her original name was Kiera, from the same orphanage.

Asher’s superpower

Asher first spoke Russian. His memory of that language has faded since he switched to mastering English. But he still remembers other things about his homeland, including Ukraine’s ubiquitous sunflowers.

He also hasn’t forgotten his love of public safety workers. When they first met, Asher asked his parents to bring him a red firetruck. A frame on the wall of his room in Newnan showcases a Georgia State Patrol patch. Near his bed hangs a photo of a uniformed fireman. An inscription beneath it quotes Henry David Thoreau: “The hero is commonly the simplest and obscurest of men.”

“We said years ago that he would be a really great fire inspector because he will notice every camera, every alarm, everything you have never noticed in your car, in your house,” said Beth Williams, Asher’s mom, who is an entrepreneur. “About small things he is ridiculously observant. It is his superpower.”

Asher Williams shows off a Georgia Bureau of Investigation patch he received from GBI Crime Scene Specialist Daniella Stuart at ClearWater Academy in Tyrone on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
Asher Williams shows off a Georgia Bureau of Investigation patch he received from GBI Crime Scene Specialist Daniella Stuart at ClearWater Academy in Tyrone on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Daniella was born in Barbados, where her father taught high school industrial arts and her mother worked as a travel agent. As a young girl, Daniella was keenly observant and enjoyed solving puzzles. When she was 5 years old, her family moved to the United States to be closer to relatives.

She grew up in Connecticut and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. After studying sociology at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, Daniella received a graduate degree in criminal justice from Georgia State University. She worked as an elementary school paraprofessional in Fayetteville before gaining experience at several law enforcement agencies.

Vital contributors

For her job with the GBI, Daniella visits crime scenes across nine Atlanta-area counties, takes photos and measurements and analyzes evidence. She also testifies as a witness in criminal court proceedings.

“I just feel like I was put on earth to do this work,” she said. “Collecting the evidence and documenting the scene and ultimately having to testify in court about it is really helpful to the case, the family members, the victims. It is satisfying work in that aspect.”

During a recent visit to Asher’s school, Daniella gave him a GBI cap and uniform patch. He thanked her and asked about the meaning of the Latin on the patch, “Lex et Ordo.”

“Law and order,” she replied. “I’m pretty sure that is what it is.”

Asher: “I always believe you.”

Moments later, Asher followed Daniella to the parking lot as she prepared to return to work.

“Do you turn on your siren, or what?” he asked as he gazed at her GBI vehicle.

Daniella: “Usually, I don’t have to. There have been a few times where I have had to — if there is a lot of traffic.”

She turned to go.

“Have a good lunch,” she told him. “I’m going to go to headquarters.”

Asher brightened: “Oh, good. Bye.”

Asher Williams (left) speaks with Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Scene Specialist Daniella Stuart at ClearWater Academy in Tyrone on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. Stuart’s mother, Jenny, works at the school as a teaching assistant. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
Asher Williams (left) speaks with Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Scene Specialist Daniella Stuart at ClearWater Academy in Tyrone on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. Stuart’s mother, Jenny, works at the school as a teaching assistant. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The two met through Daniella’s mother, Jenny Stuart, who works as a teaching assistant at his school. Jenny Stuart hopes their teamwork highlights how students like Asher can make meaningful contributions.

“They each have a strength,” she said. “They are just such sweet, loving, giving students.”

Asher’s mom has similar feelings.

“I want people to see that every business and organization can find a place for kids with learning differences,” Beth Williams said. “And they can be vital contributors to our society.”

She added about Asher, “It is vital for him to feel like he is useful. That just feeds his soul.”