40 Years Later; We Revisit Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered Children
GONE – But FINALLY Not Forgotten
“It is important that history say that we tried.” – Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms
By: Josetta Shropshire
Children are our future generations. When society loses a child, the unfulfilled dreams of a generation dies. How much better and stronger would Atlanta, Georgia and the world be now had we not prematurely lost 29 innocent lives during the 1979 – 1981 murder spree of Atlanta’s children? This we will never know. What we do know is 40 years later – film producer Will Packer, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and others are taking steps to revisit a tragic time in Atlanta’s history that was too easily swept aside. The children who savagely lost their lives during one of Atlanta’s darkest periods are finally being remembered.
THE ATLANTA CHILD MURDERS a documentary by Executive Producer, Will Packer premiered Saturday, March 23rd on Investigation Discovery, a crime and justice network. This three hour special was a powerful yet painful reminder of the 29 black children ages 9-14 that were abducted, brutally murdered, and their bodies found discarded and abandoned near rivers, woods, and in back alleys. Packer, Producer of “The Atlanta Child Murders” says, “I am proud to give a voice to the victims’ families, many of whom still seek closure to this day, and analyze how this story is more relevant than ever in today’s environment.”
Packer and Juniper Entertainment provide viewers an insight into the city of Atlanta 40 years ago, through families of the victims, the police department and the soul of the city – its people. Watching this film, audiences are witness to a horrifying 23 months with African American children being taken from their families and killed. The police force, shrouded by skepticism, following multiple killer theories that were later dismissed. The investigation soon came to a standstill, until public outcry mounted and The Atlanta Bureau of Public Services joined with other agencies to form the largest task force in United States history to solve the crimes. Police were pressured by mothers of the missing and murdered children, and by the public to find answers quickly.
In 1981, police narrowed their focus to 23 year old Wayne Williams, a black man who was suspected and ultimately convicted of killing two adults in the Atlanta area. During the longest trial in Georgia’s history, the judge allowed the prosecution to blame 10 additional murders on Williams, essentially putting him on trial for the entire Atlanta Child Murder cases. The police jumped at the opportunity to make him the culprit. Wayne Williams was never tried for the murders of the children. Many mothers of the victims do not believe Williams is the killer. He remains in Georgia Hancock State prison sentenced to two consecutive life terms for the murder of two male adults.
The search for the truth continues. New attention to the killings through Packer’s documentary, THE ATLANTA CHILD MURDERS and social media have helped elevate the conversations seeking answers.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has recently announced the Missing and Murdered cases will be re-opened using new forensic technology and DNA testing. She asked her police chief Erica Shields, “Had we tried to upload any evidence that we might have into the national databases? Having public DNA databases now, that perhaps there is something else that we can do and some other connections we can make.”
The Mayor commented recently in her 2019 State of the City Address, “We are now organizing the Atlanta’s Memorial Task Force to explore a lasting and appropriate way to remember the victims of Atlanta Child Murders.” She decided, “At the very least we could offer some type of lasting memorial for these children.” Will Packer has agreed to help the City of Atlanta facilitate the memorial along with input from the children’s families.
Bottoms says she vividly remembers this time in history and decided to take new action on these cases because of “a combination of things.” “Having been 9 years old when these killings began, it very much was a part of my childhood.” The 60th Mayor of Atlanta is now the mother of four children and says of this situation “it resonates with me now in such a very different way.” Being Mayor of Atlanta, Bottoms wondered “was there now information that I would now be privy to as Mayor that I would not be privy to as a lay person?”
She has discussed this situation with Mrs. Leach, one of the mothers of the murdered children. The Mayor contends, “We will go back and look at all the evidence that we have, the information the Georgia Bureau of investigation has and hopefully the FBI has evidence. We will certainly do everything we can to at least provide some peace to these families if at all possible. It is important that history say that we tried.”