Little solace for families of Atlanta’s homicide victims

Atlanta police collect evidence from the scene of a double shooting that left one man dead in southeast Atlanta.
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Atlanta police collect evidence from the scene of a double shooting that left one man dead in southeast Atlanta.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

‘So many unanswered questions’

Ralph Hickey II had a smile that could light up a room.

The Gwinnett County father of six had his own appliance repair business and sometimes delivered food in the evenings for extra cash. The 41-year-old also ran a nonprofit organization mentoring young Black men about entrepreneurship and the importance of being self-sufficient, his older brother, Michael Hickey, said.

Days before Thanksgiving, Michael Hickey received an early morning call at his Connecticut home. Ralph had been shot to death nearly 1,000 miles away in a southwest Atlanta parking lot.

“You never expect to get that sort of call. You never expect that sort of thing to happen,” Michael Hickey said. “He was my first sibling, my first roommate, my first partner in mischief.”

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Ralph Hickey (left) and his older brother, Michael. Ralph Hickey was one of 158 people killed in Atlanta last year during the city's deadliest year in more than two decades.

Credit: Contributed

Ralph Hickey (left) and his older brother, Michael. Ralph Hickey was one of 158 people killed in Atlanta last year during the city's deadliest year in more than two decades.
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Ralph Hickey (left) and his older brother, Michael. Ralph Hickey was one of 158 people killed in Atlanta last year during the city's deadliest year in more than two decades.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Atlanta police have charged a man in Hickey’s shooting, but that brought little comfort to his grieving relatives. Ralph was noticeably absent from the family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities. So was that trademark smile he flashed on occasion when he was truly happy, his brother said.

“It wasn’t just a smile,” Michael Hickey said. “He didn’t smile often so when he did, you knew that was a pure moment of joy. And if you couldn’t feel that, too, something was wrong with you.”

After a historically deadly 2020, last year was even worse. Atlanta authorities investigated 158 homicides in 2021, the most since 1996. The majority of cases have led to arrests but scores remain open. Even in cases where arrests have been made, relatives say their lives were upended by what many describe as senseless killings.

Among the city’s high-profile unsolved killings is that of Katherine Janness, whose body was discovered in Piedmont Park on July 28 near her slain dog, Bowie.

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Katie Janness and her 3-year-old dog, Bowie

Credit: GoFundMe

Katie Janness and her 3-year-old dog, Bowie
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Katie Janness and her 3-year-old dog, Bowie

Credit: GoFundMe

Credit: GoFundMe

The 40-year-old bartender was stabbed more than 50 times in the face, neck and torso, according to an autopsy report. Her body was discovered by her longtime girlfriend, who tracked her cellphone to the popular park when she never returned from her nightly walk, police said. The body of the couple’s dog was found about 100 feet away.

Months later, the grisly slaying remains an open case and investigators have not publicly named any suspects. Atlanta police Chief Rodney Bryant declined to discuss specifics about the ongoing investigation into Janness’ death, but he said detectives are still working to find the woman’s killer.

“As gruesome as it was, we’ve not seen anything like that since,” he recently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We continue to make sure we have officers visible during park hours to make sure that people safe — so our parks are safe.”

Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. told reporters that detectives meet regularly with state and federal investigators and are following up on leads that still come in “almost weekly.”

“Our investigations do not stop,” Hampton said. “We’re still meeting on a weekly basis with the FBI and we are getting closer, in my opinion. We have not deemed this a cold case.”

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Mourners left flowers, posters and dog treats at a makeshift memorial outside Piedmont Park last summer following the high-profile killing of Katherine Janness and her dog, Bowie. Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Mourners left flowers, posters and dog treats at a makeshift memorial outside Piedmont Park last summer following the high-profile killing of Katherine Janness and her dog, Bowie.
 Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
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Mourners left flowers, posters and dog treats at a makeshift memorial outside Piedmont Park last summer following the high-profile killing of Katherine Janness and her dog, Bowie. Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

It’s been nearly a year since 12-year-old David Mack left his grandmother’s house to play with friends, never to return.

Glenda Mack reported David missing when he never came home for dinner that February 2021 evening. Family members discovered the seventh-grader’s body the next day in a wooded area behind a public golf course, not far from his house.

No arrests have been made. Dozens of neighbors and relatives canvassed the area in the days that followed, going door to door in the hope someone may have seen enough to generate leads in the case. More than 11 months later, nobody has come forward.

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June 8, 2021 Atlanta - Glenda Mack holds a necklace that includes a photo of her grandson David. The 12-year-old was found shot to death in February 2021, not far from their southwest Atlanta home.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

June 8, 2021 Atlanta - Glenda Mack holds a necklace that includes a photo of her grandson David. The 12-year-old was found shot to death in February 2021, not far from their southwest Atlanta home.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
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June 8, 2021 Atlanta - Glenda Mack holds a necklace that includes a photo of her grandson David. The 12-year-old was found shot to death in February 2021, not far from their southwest Atlanta home.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Not a day goes by that the grieving grandmother doesn’t think about David and what might have been. Mack, who raised David since he was just 5 days old, said she still cries most mornings. She stays in her room until the tears stop, so as to not upset her other family members.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” she said. “I want someone held accountable. I just need to know who killed him.”

Andria Mapp’s father was shot to death in March.

Ronald Barner, who used a cane to get around, was gunned down during a morning walk in his southwest Atlanta neighborhood. Police released surveillance photos of two men spotted in the area just before the deadly shooting, but authorities have made just one arrest in that case, police said.

“It has been extremely tough,” said Mapp, who planned her father’s funeral and took time off work last year to grieve. “It’s been difficult just making it through the day.”

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Ronald Barner (right) and his daughter, Andria Mapp.

Credit: Family Photo

Ronald Barner (right) and his daughter, Andria Mapp.
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Ronald Barner (right) and his daughter, Andria Mapp.

Credit: Family Photo

Credit: Family Photo

For her family, the holiday season wasn’t the same without its jovial patriarch there cracking jokes from the sofa as he watched football on TV.

“He was always the one pushing for us to be together,” said Mapp, a digital content writer who grew up in southwest Atlanta and attended Booker T. Washington High School.

Barner, 58, suffered long-term back problems. But that didn’t keep him from sitting on stadium bleachers for hours as he rooted on his grandson’s football team.

“There are so many answered questions and I know that there will always be a void in my family,” his daughter said through tears. “My dad was all about family. His laugh was infectious, and he just loved people.”

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Ronald Barner (left) loved his family and the Atlanta Falcons. He was shot to death last March while walking in his southwest Atlanta neighborhood.

Credit: Family Photo

Ronald Barner (left) loved his family and the Atlanta Falcons. He was shot to death last March while walking in his southwest Atlanta neighborhood.
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Ronald Barner (left) loved his family and the Atlanta Falcons. He was shot to death last March while walking in his southwest Atlanta neighborhood.

Credit: Family Photo

Credit: Family Photo