Witnesses describe fatal beating of Douglasville teen

Bobby Tillman went out of his way to avoid conflict, not an easy thing to do at Chapel Hill High School, according to the late teen's friends. Fights are fairly common, and the 125-pound Tillman knew when he was overmatched.

"Bobby knew how to keep his distance, just in case," said Chapel Hill senior Carli Giles, a good friend of Tillman's. "There were certain crowds that were into that, and he'd stay away from them."

But Tillman was oblivious to the circumstances that led to his death following an unprovoked attack at a rowdy house party Saturday night on Independence Drive in Douglasville, witnesses say. A fight broke out between two girls outside the home, one of whom struck a male partygoer, Douglas County Sheriff Phil Miller said. He refused to strike a female but vowed to inflict payback on the next male who walked by.

Giles said her friend didn't see the punch coming. She was not at the party but talked to two friends who went there along with Tillman.

One who watched the fight told her that Tillman struggled to keep his balance after being hit but was quickly pushed to the ground by his attacker. Three of the suspect's friends, each of whom was significantly bigger than Tillman, joined the scrum, repeatedly stomping on the slight teen.

"They said it was a ‘regular jump,' " Giles told the AJC. "They didn't think it was that bad. I don't get that at all."

It was over within a minute, according to multiple sources. But it was apparent that Tillman was seriously injured.

The parents of the girl who threw the party were alerted and called 911. Deputies administered CPR but were too late to save the big-hearted teen devoted to his mother and obsessed with basketball.

(Go here for further details on what happened at the party.)

“He was an angel here on Earth, and I was blessed to be his mother,” Monique Rivarde said Monday, describing her son as "a ray of sunshine through every dark cloud that anyone had." He was "my best friend," she said.

Quantez Devonta Mallory, 18, Horace Damon Coleman, 19, Emmanuel Benjamin Boykins, 18, and Tracen Lamar Franklin, 19, were arrested Sunday and charged with Tillman's murder. All four suspects appeared Monday morning in Douglas Superior Court, where they were ordered held without bond.

"I just miss him and I just want justice done for him," Rivarde said after the bond hearing. "All I want to say is he was very strong, so I’m going to be strong for him."

Rivarde said she prays that her son’s death was not in vain.

“Something will be done about these children attacking each other for nothing,” she said.

The attack was unprovoked, Douglas County District Attorney David McDade said.

"This is ... a senseless killing by young people killing another young man for no reason, no motive," he said.

Many of Tillman's friends, including Giles, learned of his death on Facebook.

Adrienne Anderson, 18,  said Tillman made a lot of friends at Chapel Hill despite being relatively new to the area.

“He never bothered anybody," Anderson said. "He was an all-around nice person.”

Giles said Tillman was especially close to his mother.

"He'd talk about her all the time," Giles told the AJC. "If I was fighting with my mom, he'd encourage me to fix things with her."

Rivarde couldn't find enough superlatives to describe her son. She recalled him comforting her as she prepared for surgery a few months ago. He was courteous but goofy, and loved to make his mother and younger sister laugh with random slapstick, she said.

"He was like a light in the gray sky. He was my joy when I was sad," Rivarde told the AJC.

Tillman, who graduated from Chapel Hill earlier this year, was attending Georgia Perimeter College and coached youth basketball on the side. Though he dreamed of playing in the NBA, he knew that was unrealistic, his mother said, so he decided to work toward becoming a sports agent.

The night of his death, the gray-eyed boy entered her room to show off his ensemble, asking his mother if he matched. He wore blue jeans, a blue shirt, a gray sweater and red sneakers, she recalled. To tie it together, Bobby donned a blue, gray and red knit cap.

Before he left, she called to him to be careful, the kind of warning many parents recite as their children leave the home. Bobby always called when he arrived at a place, or texted before he returned home to meet his curfew, she said.

“You want to shield your children and protect them, but I trusted him," Rivarde told the AJC.

Witnesses of the fatal beating were taken by bus to the sheriff's office, Miller said, raising questions by the local NAACP chapter as to whether investigators followed proper procedures in questioning the partygoers.

"I had six people to interview 57 people," Miller told the AJC on Monday. "I didn't violate anybody's rights. We loaded them onto a bus, there was heat on the bus, they were allowed bathroom breaks and we interviewed 57 people between 2:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Sunday. Our goal was to find out who murdered this young man."

Miller said his investigators were somewhat hampered by a local attorney, "who came up there and advised witnesses -- not suspects, witnesses -- not to talk to us."

"It's not about the NAACP, it's not about the sheriff's office, it's about the murder of a nice, young man who was murdered and it was not provoked," Miller said.

Funeral plans have not been finalized.

"He had the brightest eyes I ever saw," Giles remembered. "They had a legit sparkle. He just made me smile. Always."

--Staff writers Katie Leslie, Alexis Stevens and photographer John Spink contributed to this report.