Police: High-rise apartment employee killed by tenant in outburst of anger

Tenant later killed himself in Old Fourth Ward’s Central Park, police say

A 60-year-old employee of a northeast Atlanta apartment tower was killed last week when she found herself on the receiving end of a tenant’s ire, according to a police report released Friday.

Dahlaia Roberts, a senior community manager at the Cosby Spears Memorial Towers, was shot multiple times Aug. 4 at the high-rise on North Avenue and was pronounced dead at the scene. Her alleged killer, identified by police as 64-year-old Robert Coker, was found dead of what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound in nearby Central Park in the Old Fourth Ward.

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Coker was sitting in his motorized wheelchair when he was discovered around 1:20 p.m. and had left a suicide note for responding officers, according to an Atlanta police report obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Roberts was located about 10 minutes later.

According to the report, Coker was a resident at Cosby Spears, an affordable housing community for people 55 years of age or older, or those of any age with disabilities. Investigators believe he shot and killed Roberts as the result of “sudden anger between a tenant and management employee.”

Roberts, affectionately known as “Ms. Dee,” was a longtime employee and a much-beloved member of the Cosby Spears staff, her friend and coworker Alberta Saunders told the AJC. Saunders, who has worked as a nurse contractor at the high-rise for the past decade, said she never knew Roberts to have a harsh word for anyone.

As a community manager, Roberts was often involved in every aspect of a resident’s life, from securing social security benefits, to food stamps or even mental health care. She would never turn a resident away without offering support services, because she knew the apartment community “was those people’s last hope.”

“That woman looked out for those people,” Saunders said. “That lady had love for everybody in that building. She took good care of everybody. We were a team. We were a family.”

That family is still reeling from the shock of Roberts’ violent end. Saunders said she had just left her coworker’s office 10 to 15 minutes before Coker walked in, allegedly armed with a gun. No one sitting in the hallway heard the shots, she said.

Saunders believes Roberts was helping Coker, a longtime resident, with a housing request when he became angry. According to Saunders, Roberts did everything she could to accommodate the man.

She was sitting behind her computer when she was discovered unresponsive by another coworker, Saunders said.

“That lady deserved the world,” she said of her friend. “I never met a lady who was so wonderful, sweet. She never raised her voice, she never talked nasty, and she had an open-door policy.”

At a news briefing from the Central Park scene last week, Atlanta police officials appealed to the public to put down weapons and walk away from disagreements.

“We can’t stop moments of anger, and that combination of a weapon that is at hand, that is going to lead to tragedy,” interim police Chief Darin Schierbaum said.

The police department considers Roberts’ killing to be “exceptionally cleared” by Coker’s death, according to the report. She was the 95th homicide victim killed in the city this year, and police have opened five other homicide cases in the week since.

Police have not provided any further information on what motivated the shooting.

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In a statement, Columbia Residential, the management company that operates Cosby Spears, said the community was “heartbroken and grieving at the loss of our beloved colleague.”

“Dee exemplified Columbia Residential’s values in the ways she served the residents with care, her colleagues with loyalty, and the Cosby Spears community with dignity,” the statement read, in part. “She will be greatly missed, and her more than 20-year legacy will be her dedication to others.”

— Please return to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for updates.