William “Slade” Petty loved his family, enjoyed boating and was known for playing jokes on people. The May 2020 North Gwinnett High School graduate would watch Netflix with his mom with their dog, Sadie, nestled in between them.
Three months after turning 18, Slade was stabbed to death outside his Gwinnett County apartment.
“As a mom, the one true love you ever have is a child,” Kelley Fogg told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He was my one true love and I miss him more than anything in the world. I’m never going to meet his wife or be a grandmother. I still feel like I’m going to wake up and it not be real.”
Slade’s death on July 27, 2020, was the first homicide in a decade for the Suwanee Police Department, which investigated a separate killing in November.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution submitted open records requests to dozens of agencies around the state and found that 2020 was an especially deadly year in many areas.
By early December, the GBI Medical Examiner’s Office had attributed 566 to deaths to homicide, up from 529 in 2019. The agency performs autopsies for most of the state; Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb and Gwinnett counties have their own medical examiners. The final tally for autopsies conducted by the GBI and attributed to homicide won’t be available for several months, an agency spokeswoman said.
The Gwinnett County Police Department was among those with deadly spike. In 2019, the agency investigated 30 homicides. That number climbed to 48 for 2020.
“This is a stark increase and we’re not hiding it. We’re not just sitting by and not doing anything,” said Gwinnett Police Cpl. Collin Flynn, noting the department has shifted more officers to areas that have seen the most crimes. “Our investigators are essentially working as much as they can to solve the crimes that we do have so we don’t have the recidivism of these crimes being left unsolved.”
During the spring, many metro Atlanta agencies reported decreases in crime when coronavirus concerns closed schools and businesses and Gov. Brian Kemp issued a shelter-in-place order. For example, 226 people were booked into the Cherokee County jail from March 9 to March 27, 2020, down from 388 during the same time frame in 2019, according to Capt. Jay Baker.
The lull didn’t last, records from various police agencies show.
The Albany police department investigated 17 homicide cases that killed 19 people in 2020, up from 13 in 2019. Macon police worked 42 homicide cases leaving 49 dead last year, up from 25 in 2019, according to the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office. Savannah police investigated 32 homicides in 2020, up from 24 in 2019.
Not all police departments, including several around metro Atlanta, saw homicides surge. Decatur and Avondale Estates police reported no homicides, while Brookhaven’s department investigated two. Cobb and Clayton police reported no significant increase.
“This is a stark increase and we're not hiding it. We're not just sitting by and not doing anything."
- Gwinnett Police Cpl. Collin Flynn
In Sandy Springs, homicide cases climbed to six in 2020 up from one the previous year, according to Sgt. Salvador Ortega. Three of the cases stemmed from domestic incidents, and the department has made sharing resources for domestic violence victims a social media priority, he said. Arrests have been made in all of the city’s homicides.
DeKalb County police investigated 129 homicides in 2020, up slightly from 125 in 2019.
DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond believes the pandemic played a role in areas that saw drastic increases in homicides. Anxiety and fear over the coronavirus or finances can contribute to violence, he said.
“Hungry people do desperate things,” Thurmond told the AJC. “And we know that food insecurity is a major issue right now.”
DeKalb police officers and firefighters, along with recruits, have distributed food and masks in an effort to interact with vulnerable groups, Thurmond said.
“One of the challenges that police departments are having right now is that they can’t interact with the public like they usually do,” he said. “Our goal is to eliminate homicides in DeKalb.”