ATLANTA — Atlanta police announced Thursday that they plan to retest evidence from the notorious Atlanta child murders cases that rocked the city in the late '70s and early '80s.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields made the announcement in a news conference on Thursday, March 21, at Atlanta Public Safety Headquarters.
Over a two-year period from 1979 to 1981, at least 25 African-American children were killed in areas around Memorial Drive. Several other adults were killed around the same time. Thirty-one people were killed in total.
Atlanta native Wayne Williams was convicted in the deaths of two adults in 1981. A police recruit heard the splash of a body hitting the Chattahoochee River, which led to Wayne Williams' arrest. It was the last body recovered in the case.
Police also think he is responsible for at least 22 of the children's deaths, though he has never been tried for them. Williams has maintained he never murdered any children.
On Thursday, Bottoms read out the names and ages of each of the victims before saying she hopes new DNA technology could erase any lingering doubt about who killed them.
She hopes taking a fresh look at the evidence may give peace to the victims' families 40 years later.
"(We hope) to let them know that we have done all that we can do ... to make sure thier memories are not forgotten ... and in the truest sense of the word to let the world know that black lives do matter," Bottoms said.
Shields said her department has boxes filled with evidence, some of which may never have been tested.
"We don't know what we'll find, but what we do know is that we have an obligation... to these families that every imaginable investigatory lead is followed," Shields said.
Catherine Leach, whose son, Curtis Walker, was one of the victims, said that all she wants is closure.
"There's not a day I don't think about him, especially birthdays and Thanksgiving when he's not there with me," Leach said. "Our children have been forgotten in this city, and nobody cared out (them.)"
Huddleston spoke to Bottoms exclusively about how for her, the missing and murdered children's case was personal.
Bottoms told Huddleston she remembers the murders vividly.
"As a child, it was (that the) boogeyman was now real, and now there's an emotional connection I have as a parent," Bottoms said. "To think there may be something else we can do to get some answers, it's our moral duty."
Leach said she hopes maybe knowing who killed her son can help her find peace.
"I want to know who did it," Leach said. "And I want to know."
At least one detective connected with the case said that reopening it and retesting evidence wouldn't be so simple.
Retired Domicide detective Vince Valazquez worked 22 years for the Atlanta Police Department and 17 years in homicide. He also worked on the Atlanta child murders case.
Valazquez said after all these years, evidence could be tainted.
"You could find biological evidence, male DNA perhaps. We don't know how that evidence was handled in the '70s. We don't know if investigators wore gloves," Valazquez said.
Bottoms said if there is any chance to give the families closure, she wants to pursue it.
"They could have been my children," Bottoms said. "They could have been your children."
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