Man killed during bus chase in Atlanta was family man, protector

The family of a man killed during a frightening bus hijacking that began in Atlanta and ended in DeKalb County said he was dedicated to supporting those around him.

Ernest Byrd Jr., 58, who was found suffering from a gunshot wound when police finally stopped the Gwinnett County transit bus, died at the hospital Tuesday afternoon. He was one of 17 people who were taken hostage around 4:30 p.m. after the bus was hijacked in downtown Atlanta. It traveled through Gwinnett before authorities ended the ordeal on Hugh Howell Road near Tucker, officials said.

“Ernest, he was a consistent person, and you would never think that this would be how this would happen. ... He was a protector,” family member Tonya Pendleton told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday.

Joseph Grier, 39, was arrested and is facing charges of murder, aggravated assault, kidnapping and hijacking a motor vehicle in the incident.

According to authorities, he got into a fight with a man on the bus who pulled out a gun. Grier is accused of taking the gun and threatening passengers with it. Grier then shot the man and told the driver to flee, the GBI said.

Pendleton had not seen Byrd in several years, the last time being at her nephew’s wedding. She explained that her niece was married to Byrd for about 25 years before they divorced, and she often admired their relationship. Byrd was living in New York City prior to moving to the Atlanta area around eight years ago.

“Ernest was a family man, first and foremost, and in his marriage that’s what he prized more than anything else,” Pendleton said, adding that “when I think of him, I think of somebody who was a present father.”

Ernest Byrd Jr. was killed after a bus was hijacked in downtown Atlanta, officials said.

Credit: Contributed

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Credit: Contributed

Pendleton, who hosts “Reality Check” on WURD Radio, said Byrd’s legacy is the seven children he left behind, all of whom are grown. She recounted specifically when his eldest daughter played basketball and Byrd was always there supporting and coaching her.

She was in shock when Byrd’s youngest daughter called her Tuesday evening to say he had been fatally shot. Pendleton never expected him to become the victim of a shooting, and assumed she would eventually see him at a family get-together.

“You figured there would be more celebrations, whether it was more weddings or more children, or any of those things that he would be at,” Pendleton said.

Just moments prior to the hijacking, Grier spoke to an AJC reporter about witnessing a shooting at the The Hub at Peachtree Center. A 34-year-old man, Jeremy Malone, is accused of shooting three people at the food court Tuesday afternoon before being shot by an off-duty Atlanta police officer, officials said.

Grier allegedly walked just a few blocks from the Peachtree Center and hopped onto the bus at 45 Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard.

Atlanta police pursued the vehicle on I-85 near Spaghetti Junction and into Gwinnett. The bus exited onto Jimmy Carter Boulevard and headed south while state troopers and police tailed behind it. The bus was finally stopped and Grier was arrested around 5:15 p.m., police confirmed.

The case against Grier was initially going to be tried in Fulton County, but will now be moved to Gwinnett. District Attorney Fani Willis asked to be recused because an employee in her office was one of the passengers on the bus, a letter to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council of Georgia reveals.

As Byrd’s family grieves and begins to plan a funeral, Pendleton said she is trying to wrap her mind around the complexity of the incident and how she’ll move forward.

“He was someone to his family, he was someone to his colleagues and the people that he worked with,” Pendleton said.