A cross section of Fayette County leaders gathered on the steps of the Fayette County Justice Center this morning to present a united voice in response to the two shooting deaths which rocked the community in recent weeks.
The Fayetteville Polcie Department and Fayette County Sheriff’s Office continue to investigate the two unrelated shootings which took the lives of two young men.
Gregory Smith, 27, of College Park was shot to death in the parking lot of the Fayetteville Applebee’s Grill & Bar in the early morning hours on June 7 after he had closed the restaurant.
A week later, on the night of June 13, another shooting occurred as a large pool party was breaking up in north Fayette County on Highway 279. Five people were shot in the incident. Wali Clanton, 19, of Stockbridge died from a gunshot wound to the chest.
Murders are rare in Fayette County, and two deadly shootings in a week prompted some community leaders to organize Tuesday morning’s press conference.
Representative Virgil Fludd opened the press conference, which also included comments from Sheriff Barry Babb, Fayetteville Police Chief Scott Pitts, and Fayette County Chamber of Commerce President Carlotta Ungaro.
They each spoke as a group of other community leaders stood behind them in a show of solidarity.
“We speak today with one unified voice, on a community we care so deeply about,” said Fludd. “You can see from the folks that are with me that it cuts across all lines. We have people from the Fayette community, the business community, the NAACP, law enforcmeent, elected and non-elected leaders. All standing to be clear about our commitment to solidarity.”
Fludd said his family had moved to Fayette County 20 years ago for its sense of community, and he expected to see that endure.
“We are deeply saddened by the events that have happened in our community, and our hearts go out to the families that have been impacted by these events. However, we want to be clear about one very important thing: That is this community has always been safe, and we intend to keep it that way. We’re simply not going to allow violent criminal behavior here in Fayette County.”
Fludd reflected upon the changes that had occurred as the county has grown since his arrival in the early 90s, from around 50,000 people to over 100,000.
“So let’s fast-forward to 2015. We have more people, we have more traffic, and quite honestly we have more challenges. That’s a natural part of growth. But I will tell you one thing that has not changed. That is the commitment of the residents of Fayette County to make sure that this community protects its citizens, protects our investments, and protects our quality of life. No isolated or oganized criminal activity is going to be tolerated.”
Sheriff Barry Babb observed that crime has been declining in Fayette County in recent years, despite the shocking nature of these recent crimes.
“Recent headlines and news stories of violent crimes have stirred our consience and our typically quiet way of life. Local conversations are fixed on these topics right now, because this is not the norm for us,” Babb said. “I can stand here and tell you that in the county, crime’s down. It’s steadily been going down for the last few years. I can tell you as of this last week, we’re down 28-percent from where we were this time last year. Now I can say those things, but I know it’s not going to make a lot of people feel more comfortable.”
Babb said he is thankful for the support law enforcement receives in their efforts to keep the county safe. He recounted a lunch he had with one of his line supervisors this week where multiple people came up to thank them, and someone anonymously paid for the meal, writing “Thank you for your service” on the receipt.
“That’s just a resounding thing the officers hear, and that in itself, from you, is what drives us to strive to be ever vigilant and make this a better community. That doesn’t happen in a lot of communities, but that’s what makes this county special,” Babb said.
The special quality of cooperation in Fayette County would help the community in its response to recent tragedies, Babb said.
“Today, I think we’re doing something really special. Sometimes a generation faces unique challenges. We look through our history, you know. it’s always a threat to our way of life or it’s a threat to our freedom. I think that, we’re Americans, we usually rise to that challenge. Some people can throw up their hands, shake their head and walk away. But I don’t think this community’s going to do that,” Babb said.
Fayetteville Police Chief Scott Pitts echoed the sentiments of Fludd and Babb in praising the Fayette community. He pledged that his department would not rest in seeking answers in Smith’s death.
“We’re working diligently to pursue the people who murdered Gregory Smith, and we will not rest until they’re in jail, and they’re in the courts behind us. We can do that with your support,” Pitts said.
He also noted that the police department offers some services of which many residents may not be aware. On the night he was shot, Smith was closing up the restaurant before leaving around 3 a.m.
Pitts said residents who are concerned in these sorts of situations can call for a police escort to their car. The same can be done, he said, for people who would like an escort to make a bank deposit or feel they need added safety for any other reason.
“That is one of the many services we provide so that you will not have to worry when you leave your business at two o’clock in the morning. We’ll be there to make sure you get to your car safely,” Pitts said, noting the non-emergency number for the 911 Center is 770-461-HELP.
The final speaker was Fayette County Chamber of Commerce CEO Carlotta Ungaro.
“While these tragedies have occured in the last few weeks, we know this is not a trend. The business and the people in Fayette County know this is not business as usual,” Ungaro said. “Our future is one of success, not uncertainty.”