4 slain in Georgia mass shooting memorialized as neighbors gather for candlelight vigil
Jul 17, 2023, 10:27 AM | Updated: 6:56 pm
HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) — A few hundred people gathered Monday for a vigil to remember four victims of a mass shooting in an Atlanta suburb, singing “This Little Light of Mine” at the end as they lit candles in their honor.
Family members, friends and neighbors were still shaking off disbelief at the 10-minute span Saturday when Scott Leavitt, 67; his wife, Shirley Leavitt, 66; Steve Blizzard, 65; and Ronald Jeffers, 66, were shot and killed. Police and witnesses named 40-year-old Andre Longmore as the shooter.
“My parents loved each other,” Scott Leavitt Jr. said after the vigil, a tear running down his cheek. “They always said neither one of them would be able to live without the other, so we’ve been able to find some comfort that they went together.”
Harold Blizzard said his older brother, Steve, was a lover of photography and adventure. The two had planned a trip along Route 66 in early July, but when Harold had to cancel to allow an amputated finger to heal, Steve told him they’d do it another time.
“It’s the biggest regret of my life,” Harold Blizzard said after the vigil.
The killings set off a massive search that ended Sunday with Longmore dead in a shootout in another suburb about 15 miles (25 kilometers) north. The exchange of gunfire wounded a sheriff’s deputy and two police officers, who are all recovering.
Residents of the bucolic Dogwood Lakes subdivision, where about 40 houses with tidy yards flank a lake on two streets, were surprised that gun violence had come to their peaceful neighborhood about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Atlanta. Hampton had not previously recorded a homicide since 2018.
“I’m not going to say it makes me uneasy, but it does drive home that this kind of thing could happen anywhere,” said Kevin Pugh, who lives next door to the house where the Leavitts lived for a few years with their adult daughter and her children. “Up until Saturday, the most ruckus we had was the Canadian geese.”
Erin Leavitt, in a Facebook post, remembered her aunt and uncle, Scott and Shirley, as “fun loving and caring souls, my aunt possibly one of the sweetest and kindest souls a person could meet.”
They both grew up in Massachusetts and moved years ago to Georgia, where they shared their home with their daughter Jessica and granddaughters, Erin Leavitt wrote. The couple also has two other surviving children, she wrote.
“Jessica and her young girls were also home at the time of the attack, however, my aunt was able to alert her and she and the girls survived,” she said. “Sadly, my aunt did not.”
Jeffers was described as a pillar of his church. Sherry Wyatt, who works at Hampton’s recreation center near Jeffers’ home, said Sunday that Jeffers would regularly sing at the senior center that shares the building.
A few months ago she told Jeffers how beautiful his voice was.
“I’m just so glad I told him he sang like an angel,” Wyatt said. “I know he is in heaven now singing.”
Tom Hannegan and his husband, Donald Smith, live two doors down from the house where Blizzard had lived since the subdivision was built in the 1990s. The only crime they ever remember hearing about was a rash of car break-ins about five years ago.
Hannegan, now president of the homeowners association, said Blizzard was one of the few remaining original residents. He was vice president of the association and previously served as president.
“He was just a good guy,” Hannegan said.
Blizzard was a military veteran and skilled locksmith, former coworker Randy Slape told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He lamented that Blizzard’s life was cut short.
“I can just imagine that he was planning on doing something with his grandkids and being a grandpa,” Slape said.
Hampton Mayor Ann Tarpley ordered flags flown at half-staff in the city of 8,000 on Monday. Officials including the city manager and police chief assured the families during the evening vigil that their community would support them over the long haul.
The shootings brought to 31 the number of mass killings so far this year, with at least 153 people dying in them, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in a partnership with Northeastern University.
Longmore had needed mental help for nearly a decade, but his family and officials couldn’t force him to get treatment, his mother said. Longmore had a “mental breakdown” in 2014, leading to an inpatient hospital stay, Lorna Dennis told WSB-TV on Sunday.
She said her son “kept deteriorating” but refused to seek medical attention, and that officials said they couldn’t force him to seek care.
“It’s hard to lose your son, and it’s also hard to know your son cost the life of so many people,” Dennis said.
She said Longmore was living with her in recent years and she hopes relatives of the victims will find peace with God.
“I feel so much for the families, and that’s why I just want to say I’m very, very sorry. I know words cannot really comfort them from me at this time, but I know there is a comforter, and they can refer to him at any time,” Dennis said.
The Army said Longmore was a sergeant, working as an automated logistical specialist from August 2000 to May 2006 overseeing supplies and equipment. He deployed to Afghanistan, served under hostile fire and was a trained parachutist, driver and mechanic.
Hannegan said Longmore attended a couple of neighborhood association meetings with his mother, but he didn’t really know him. Longmore sometimes rode an electric scooter around the neighborhood or drove slowly up and down the dead-end streets.
“You could just tell he was a little out there,” Hannegan said. “He would tell people he was a prophet.”
Longmore was killed in suburban Jonesboro after a Henry County sheriff’s deputy saw the SUV that Longmore stole from Blizzard and began chasing.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Monday that Longmore first tried to ambush officers in Jonesboro and shot a Henry County deputy. Longmore stole a police vehicle and drove across the street, investigators said. He then fled to the backyard of a townhouse, bleeding and naked, and ran inside. When officers entered the home, Longmore fired again, wounding two Clayton County police officers.
The sheriff’s deputy was shot in the back and underwent surgery. Both Clayton officers were released after treatment for minor injuries.
Amy reported from Atlanta.