Kennesaw community on edge after golf course killings

210706-Kennesaw-Mourners drop off flowers and a golf ball Tuesday afternoon, July 6, 20201, while paying their respect to golf pro Gene Siler, who was shot and killed Saturday afternoon on the 10th green of the Pinetree Country Club in Kennesaw. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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210706-Kennesaw-Mourners drop off flowers and a golf ball Tuesday afternoon, July 6, 20201, while paying their respect to golf pro Gene Siler, who was shot and killed Saturday afternoon on the 10th green of the Pinetree Country Club in Kennesaw. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: BEN@BENGRAY.COM

Credit: BEN@BENGRAY.COM

As he observed the pickup truck stuck in a sand trap on the 10th hole at Kennesaw’s Pinetree Country Club golf course Saturday afternoon, club member Tom Dowling figured the driver had suffered a medical emergency.

Golf pro Gene Siller volunteered to investigate.

“It could’ve been any of us who went up there,” said Dowling, who estimated there were 50 to 60 golfers in the clubhouse when the white truck was first spotted roughly 400 yards away. Wearing bright red pants in honor of Independence Day, Siller could still be seen from the clubhouse windows as he neared the vehicle.

And then, he was gone, said Dowling, 59. Cobb County police officers found Siller on the green of the 10th hole with a gunshot wound to the head, police spokeswoman Officer Shenise Barner told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Dowling said he didn’t hear any gunshots from inside the clubhouse but said golfers on the course reported hearing multiple loud bangs.

In a statement released Tuesday, Cobb police said they believe Siller “happened upon a crime in progress.”

“It does not appear Siller was in any way targeted, but rather was killed because he witnessed an active crime taking place,” police said.

In the bed of the Ram 3500 truck, police discovered two more men dead from apparent gunshot wounds, investigators determined. One was identified by police as Paul Pierson, the pickup’s registered owner. The other victim has not been named.

Investigators say the men “appear to have no relation to (Pinetree Country Club).” It’s too early in the investigation to speculate about a motive, police said.

Siller is survived by his wife and two young sons. A GoFundMe page created to help the family with expenses has raised nearly $500,000 as donations pour in from across the country.

The suspect remains at large. Officials described him as being 6-foot-1 with long hair, last seen wearing a white or tan shirt and dark-colored work pants. The country club is located along McCollum Parkway, near Kennesaw State University’s main campus.

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210706-Kennesaw-The front of the Pinetree Country Club in Kennesaw where golf pro Gene Siller, who was shot and killed on the 10th green Saturday. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

210706-Kennesaw-The front of the Pinetree Country Club in Kennesaw where golf pro Gene Siller, who was shot and killed on the 10th green Saturday. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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210706-Kennesaw-The front of the Pinetree Country Club in Kennesaw where golf pro Gene Siller, who was shot and killed on the 10th green Saturday. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Residents in the neighborhood that surrounds the club were still processing the tragedy on Tuesday. In a letter delivered to their mailboxes, Cobb police Maj. Ben Cohen said their neighborhood has received no direct threats and there was “no active threat to the public at large.”

A visible police presence remained. Three squad cars were stationed at the country club’s entrance and Cobb police vehicles were seen patrolling throughout the neighborhood on Tuesday.

Jayme Smith, who lives just down the street from the club, said many neighbors are staying inside. She’s noticed far fewer walkers this week along the community’s leafy streets.

“It’s a little scary,” she said. Before Saturday, she never gave a second thought to crime in the area.

“This kind of thing doesn’t happen here,” she said.

That has contributed to a widespread fascination with this case, which has been covered by national news organizations. Suburban golf courses aren’t usually the scene of major crimes, and Cobb has largely avoided the kind of high-profile violence that attracts the national spotlight.

Longtime educator Tim Brown, who moved here in 2006, said the shootings “just hit me like a ton of bricks.”

“It’s a realization that crime is not a respecter of neighborhoods or zip codes,” he said. “And the neighborhood is pretty concerned because the perpetrator is still out there.”

Brown said he has begun carrying his 9 mm handgun, even if he’s just walking his dog in the yard.

“I just don’t know where this guy is,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t feel comfortable. I just want to be safe. I feel called to protect and take care of my family.”

Rabbi Zalman Charytan, who lives just around the corner from the club, said he felt no less safe that he did last week.

“It’s a fluke,” he said. “Something like this could’ve happened anywhere.”