Piedmont Park visitors on edge after woman’s brutal slaying

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Maybe 50 yards from where the bodies of Katherine Janness and her dog were located Wednesday morning at Piedmont Park, Khiry Gilchrist found two sturdy trees and affixed his red hammock to them.

It was already blazing hot. Unfazed and unbothered, as joggers, dog walkers and scooters glided by him Thursday morning, Gilchrist pulled out a copy of “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World.”

A recent transplant from Manhattan, it was his first time ever in Piedmont Park and he was loving it – until someone told him that less than 48 hours prior, a woman had been brutally murdered there.

Credit: Ernie Suggs

Credit: Ernie Suggs

“That immediately makes me think that I have to come here during the day,” Gilchrist said. “But there is part of me that makes me wonder if I will ever come back.”

Janness, 40, was stabbed multiple times in the early morning hours of Wednesday while she was walking her dog, Bowie, through the park.

No information has been released on a possible suspect in the killing and a $10,000 reward is being offered through Crime Stoppers Atlanta.

Aside from a small memorial of flowers and dog biscuits at the park’s 10th Street and Charles Allen Drive entrance, there was little evidence of the brutality that occurred Wednesday morning in the heart of Atlanta’s heart.

Several police cars were in the park, but regulars said it didn’t seem excessive. A few officers on horses waited near the memorial watching local television crews do standups.

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

Many people in the park didn’t even know about the murder. Regulars went about their business. An older man and woman, neighbors, stood in the middle of a path and talked about it.

They didn’t give their names but said how safe the park was in the daytime. But they had concerns about the petty crimes in the area, like car break-ins and package thefts.

And they wondered why Janness was in the park so late.

Emma Clark, Janness’ girlfriend, told investigators and her family that Janness often walked in the park and listened to podcasts. Clark had wanted her to carry pepper spray during her walks but Janness said she felt safe.

Kathryn Fernandez gets it. She lives on Charles Allen and was taking her two dogs, Toka and Milla, out for an afternoon walk.

Credit: Ernie Suggs

Credit: Ernie Suggs

Often, if she gets home late in the evening, she has to walk her dogs in the dark.

Most of the time it is just on the street. Sometimes she steps into the park.

“It depends. 10 p.m. Sometimes 3 a.m. Going through the park, it is usually pretty quiet at night,” Fernandez said. “But you might see a crackhead every now and then.”

On the morning that Janness’ body was found, Fernandez’s roommate came into their apartment and collapsed in tears. He was just getting off work. He said he saw Bowie lying in the street and a man yelling into his cellphone for help.

He tried to see what he could do to help, but was told he didn’t want to see what the others had seen.

“It was terrifying to hear about this and it may influence how I use the park in the future,” Fernandez said. “I am definitely not going in past dark in a while. I am freaked out.”

Ateo Thompson was also out Thursday morning walking his Vizsla named Oliver. He is a regular in the park and feels safe there. He is more concerned about what is happening outside of the parks. The crimes of opportunity, like carjackings where someone bumps into a vehicle, then violently steals it.

“I carry (a gun), so it makes me feel a little better about being out in the park,” Thompson said. “But I am always aware of my surroundings.”

Larry McHugh, who rides his bike through the park about three times a week, said he doesn’t plan to change much of his routine. He doesn’t think the general public is at risk.

“I am not that concerned about crime in the city,” said McHugh, who lives in Inman Park. “Crime is so random. Anybody can be a victim, so you just have to always be aware of what is going on around you.”

That’s the message Betsy Bockman has for her students. The principal of Midtown High School said she is always imploring them to get their heads out of their cellphones and pay attention. With the former Grady High located right across from the park, students, faculty and staff use it regularly.

“Teachers are talking about it,” said Bockman, who will be welcoming students back to school next week. “Communication will be important. Students and staff need information on how to stay safe.”

Bockman was in the park Thursday visiting the memorial, just 50 feet from her urban campus.

“I spend a lot of time working on COVID strategies,” Bockman said. “But this is something I can’t protect against.”