EXCLUSIVE: Buckhead wants a divorce! Wealthy Atlanta enclave with multi-million dollar homes, flashy Porsches, and a luxury mall is in a crime ‘crisis’ with murders up 46% – as residents petition to break from the city after a jogger is shot
Andrew Worrell was jogging in the upscale Atlanta community Buckhead early on June 5 when he was shot, but survived
When he felt the car pull up alongside him Andrew Worrell assumed the driver was looking for directions.
He stopped walking along the quiet tree-lined street and turned towards the lowering tinted window. And that’s when he saw the muzzle of the gun.
It is a month since the 41-year-old father of three was shot on a Saturday morning walk near his home in Buckhead, one of the wealthiest communities in Atlanta.
He is recovering well, thankful for his ‘good fortune.’ Hit twice, one bullet went clean through his leg, the other tracked a path from his hip across his pelvis but remarkably left bone and organs intact.
But, for some, the intrusion of this random act of violence into one of Atlanta’s ‘safest’ neighborhoods has proved the final straw.
In the weeks since the shooting Worrell’s attack has been co-opted into a debate that has brewed on and off for decades, pushing it into the national headlines as the calls grow louder than ever before; Buckhead wants a divorce.
Certainly, that is how Bill White, Chief Executive Officer of the Buckhead Exploratory Committee sees it. White is leading the charge for Buckhead to split from the rest of the state capital and become its own incorporated city.
Speaking exclusively to DailyMail.com White said, ‘The residents of Buckhead have been more than pushed. We have been exploited as a community for way too long.’
According to White the city is in crisis and it comes down to three things: crime, crime, crime.
Bill White, Chief Executive Officer of the Buckhead Exploratory Committee, is leading the charge for Buckhead to split from the rest of Atlanta. Speaking to DailyMail.com White said, ‘The residents of Buckhead have been more than pushed. We have been exploited as a community for way too long’
For some, the intrusion of this random act of violence into one of Atlanta’s ‘safest’ neighborhoods has proved the final straw and residence want out
So far this year murders in Atlanta are up 46 percent, rape is up 83 percent and shootings are up 40 percent. At time of writing Atlanta Police Department (APD) statistics recorded 368 shootings this year where, over the same period last year, that number was 263. Conversely the number of guns seized by law enforcement has dropped by 22 percent.
And while Atlanta as a whole has experienced what Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has described as a ‘Covid crime wave,’ the figures have spiked in Buckhead more than anywhere else.
Aggravated assaults are up 52 percent in Buckhead compared to 26 percent citywide. Robberies are up 20 percent elsewhere but 39 percent in Buckhead and larceny from vehicles has risen by 40 percent in Buckhead but 27 percent in the rest of Atlanta.
In an exclusive interview with DailyMail.com Worrell’s wife Anne, 42, pinpointed what she believes has made her husband’s shooting such a flashpoint in the Buckhead debate
Set against this backdrop, Worrell’s shooting – early in the morning on a quiet residential street – has taken an already thrumming sense of insecurity and cranked it up.
In an exclusive interview with DailyMail.com Worrell’s wife Anne, 42, pinpointed what she believes has made her husband’s shooting such a flashpoint in the Buckhead debate.
She said, ‘Where there’s been violence and shootings in Buckhead it’s been in the commercial areas, gas stations and malls, music recording studios and clubs…not in our neighborhoods.
‘This, to my knowledge, is the first shooting that’s been in a neighborhood and that’s why I think so many people feel violated.’
Home to approximately 86,000 residents Buckhead is anchored by luxury mall, Lenox Square, surrounded by condominiums, flashy office blocks and showrooms.
Porsches, Land Rovers and Mercedes flash along the main drag. This is not just wealth, it is conspicuous wealth.
But look a little closer and something else is obvious too. Lenox Square Mall doesn’t just have an entrance, it has a security screening area with a gun detector through which would-be shoppers must pass.
Just last week a security guard was shot here in broad daylight. Some days earlier a man was shot dead at the swanky Intercontinental Hotel, five minutes further down Peachtree Road.
Last month three men were shot and injured in front of Buckhead’s Home Depot when a fight in an apartment complex spilled over onto the street.
Two days later a man was shot and killed in the bathroom of a neighboring club.
During DailyMail.com’s visit to the area there were multiple reports of shots fired and shootings resulting in injuries. They came every day and every night.
According to White there are more criminals on the street thanks to a push to release offenders from jail due to Covid and legislation that eliminated the need for cash bonds in some low level crimes.
On top of that, he said, criminals are ’emboldened,’ by the knowledge that APD is sparsely staffed, demoralized and hamstrung by their fear of being fired, or even charged, for pro-active policing.
Porsches, Land Rovers and Mercedes flash along the main drag. This is not just wealth, it is conspicuous wealth
Home to approximately 86,000 residents Buckhead is anchored by luxury mall, Lenox Square, surrounded by condominiums, flashy office blocks and showrooms
A bill has been introduced to de-annex Buckhead from the rest of the city of Atlanta due to rising crime
This malaise is borne of national and local events – from the push to defund police in the wake of George Floyd’s death and from APD’s own experience in the case of the shooting of Rayshard Brooks last summer.
Brooks was shot by Garrett Rolfe and Devin Brosnan in an attempted arrest when he was reported asleep at the wheel in a Wendy’s drive thru. As the situation devolved into a brawl, drunk and high, Brooks grabbed one of the officer’s tasers and fired it at them. Rolfe shot him as he fled.
Cops arrested and charged Gaelen Newsom (pictured), 22, with attempted murder, three counts of aggravated assault and two counts of possession of a firearm during a crime in connection with the weekend crime spree, which included Andrew’s shooting
Mayor Bottoms immediately called for the officers’ firing. District Attorney Paul Howard brought murder charges, leapfrogging the state investigation and garnering accusations of political grandstanding. Howard, who has since been ousted, was running for re-election at the time.
In the days that followed approximately 170 APD officers called out sick.
Rolfe recently won his fight to be reinstated though he was immediately placed on administrative leave.
Executive Director of the Peace Officers’ Union of Georgia, John Edwards, slammed the city’s response at the time.
Now he has told DailyMail.com that there is a straight line to be drawn between rising crime and diminishing morale and numbers of officers on the beat.
He said, ‘You have a police force that’s crippled and reactive and with a real problem in recruiting and retention.’
According to Edwards as older officers age out and others quit there is an experience deficit that has a direct and negative impact on both morale and policing efficacy. Put bluntly too many of the cops that are on the beat don’t know what they are doing or don’t have the confidence to do it.
APD figures obtained by DailyMail.com show a department in danger of bleeding out.
In 2019, 152 police officers left and 206 were recruited. Last year 201 left and 115 were recruited. So far this year 77 have left and only 37 have joined.
In Buckhead just 80 officers cover an area the size of San Francisco – a city with a police force of 2,000. Taking into account shifts that means that, on any given day, roughly 20 officers are covering a high crime beat stretching 32 square miles.
Parke Cooper, 61, has lived in Buckhead for decades. Speaking to DailyMail.com he reeled off a list of crimes of which he has direct knowledge. He said, ‘At 3am yesterday morning a Porsche Cayenne flipped [on the street behind our house], caught fire and a man crawls out, naked and into the yard of our friend.
‘About a year ago a 14 and 15-year-old walked into our neighborhood, whipped out pieces at 5pm and took [our neighbor’s] Bentley out of his drive.’
Cooper admitted that he and his neighbors, who live in a gated community of around ten houses, have discussed hiring a full-time police officer at a cost of $125,000 a year to patrol their enclave.
Steve Garono, 45, retired from APD last year after more than two decades as a cop in Atlanta and Ohio. He is also a resident of Buckhead.
According to Garono, ‘There’s no support from the city or command itself. When there were riots, downtown officers were told to stop blowing through barricades or be faced with charges of aggravated assault.
‘Cops aren’t allowed to give chase…it’s a disgrace. Everyone’s afraid to do their job. Who’s going to risk their life if they’re going to get fired or charged with no due process? It’s not worth it.’
Garono absolutely supports the move to de-annex Buckhead. ‘And disable the Marta [transit train] while you’re at it,’ he said. ‘Stop them coming in here.’
Asked to whom he was referring Garono said, ‘the criminals.’
The incident report reveals Newsom shot randomly at two other joggers, missing both, before deliberately driving his car into a pedestrian putting out his trash. The man was pinned between Newsom’s vehicle and a truck in an horrific incident that resulted in the loss of both his legs
BUCKHEAD, GEORGIA: ONE OF THE NATION’S WEALTHIEST ZIP CODES
Buckhead is known as Atlanta’s commercial and residential district, famed for its high-rise buildings and shopping centers, hotels and mansions.
The neighborhood is a historically wealthy district and was once ranked the ninth richest zip code in the country with a median price of homes of $1,460,595, according to Forbes.
American suburban luxury home in Buckhead, Atlanta
Bloomberg named Buckhead the 20th richest zipcode in the nation in 2011, when the average household net worth there was $1,353,189.
The average household income was $280,631.
Because of this, Buckhead is often called the ‘Beverly Hills of the East/South’, in reference to the upscale city in California.
Buckhead is also known to have a few notable residents, including Georgia Republican Kelly Loeffler.
Loeffler was among the wealthiest members of Congress until she lost her seat in January. In 2009, she and her husband spent more than $10million on a European-style mansion named Descante in the Buckhead neighborhood.
It is the sort of sentiment against which Edward Lindsey, Co-chair of the Committee for a United Atlanta is fighting.
He told DailyMail.com, ‘The most cited issue for Buckhead to split is crime and it’s a valid concern.
‘But you can’t build a moat or walls and the concerns are not unique to Buckhead.
‘The concerns are similar to those being voiced in East, South, West Atlanta and Midtown. It should be a unifying force not something that’s divisive.’
Given Buckhead’s wealth and demographics some have cast the proposed split as white privilege in action.
Buckhead contributes 40 percent of the city’s tax revenue with just 20 percent of Atlanta’s population. And while Atlanta as a whole is 51 percent black, Buckhead is 71 percent white.
Lindsey is cautious of characterizing the desire as inherently racist pointing out, ‘I have very good friends on both sides of this issue, and I wouldn’t describe them as that.’
But he added, ‘You can’t avoid the perception that people will have.’
White robustly rejects the notion that there is any question of segregation at play. He said, ‘I do believe that folks who are thinking of this as some racially motivated thing are incorrect.
‘We’re hearing from literally thousands of people from all walks of life, multi-cultural, multi-amazing families. The only race in this important project is the human race.
‘Crime is affecting everybody. I hate mentioning there’s a white rapper whose car was stolen or there’s a black rapper whose car was stolen.
‘I think it’s disgusting to have to label that. It’s just not in my heart. Crime is colorblind and all we want to do is fight crime as a community.’
To that end, White promises, ‘a massive police presence’ in Buckhead once recruitment for that force has been wrested from the city of Atlanta and lies with the proposed city of Buckhead.
He said, ‘For a short period of time there could be as much as three times the amount of officers that are currently on the job here in Buckhead.
‘We’re talking to the best professional executives and they’re advising us that the multiple for Buckhead City Police Department would be somewhere in the area of two or 300 for some prolonged period of time.
‘You’ll see a cop on every corner and they’re going to be paid well and our police are going to be loved and they’re not going to be thrown under the bus and summarily fired.’
But what of the Worrells, so recently and directly impacted by this crime spike and whose story has been adopted as totemic of the battle for Buckhead?
For her part Anne Worrell does not think that divorce is the answer.
There has been a marked increase in shootings in the malls and commercial areas including a security guard shot in Lenox Square and a man shot dead in the Intercontinental Hotel
Lenox Square Mall doesn’t just have an entrance, it has a security screening area with a gun detector through which would-be shoppers must pass.
Anne admitted that she has friends who will no longer go to the mall or pump gas because they don’t feel safe. She said that when she goes to refuel her car she locks the doors when she pumps the gas, ‘So nobody can slip into the back seat and hold me at gunpoint’
White promises, ‘a massive police presence’ in Buckhead once recruitment for a police3 force has been wrested from the city of Atlanta and lies with the proposed city of Buckhead
‘If Atlanta were to break off who’s to say that crime wouldn’t find its way back into Buckhead? We’re not building a wall or gates or anything,’ Anne Worrell said
On the morning her husband was shot she rushed to the hospital, following on the ambulance in which he was traveling, uncertain of the severity of his injuries. A friend had come over to look after their three children ages 7 to 3.
Anne recalled, ‘I remember when we got there he said, ”It hurts and I’m scared,” and I nearly lost it.’
But, however agonizing the wait for news of her husband and shocking the incident, Anne’s feelings are tempered by what else took place that morning. And what has since emerged about the alleged shooter, Gaelen Newsom.
Newsom shot randomly at two other joggers, missing both, before deliberately driving his car into a pedestrian putting out his trash. The man was pinned between Newsom’s vehicle and a truck in an horrific incident that resulted in the loss of both his legs.
Anne was unaware of this as she waited in the private family room at Grady Hospital. She had been told that her husband was about to go into theatre but, with just minutes to go she was informed that his exploratory surgery had been pushed for a more emergent patient.
She recalled, ‘The nurse said something like it was a man and his legs had been cut off.’
At that moment Anne received a message from one of her sisters – a screen grab of a report about the shooting suspect having pinned a man between his car and another, injuring both his legs.
She realized that was the man being rushed into surgery ahead of her husband and that the woman in the family room alongside her was that man’s wife.
She said, ‘I just felt sick knowing that somebody else was a victim and it sounded worse.
‘When you’re a victim of crime there’s a certain sense of violation but to know that there’s more people involved…it’s heart-wrenching and it makes it even more senseless.’
Yet for all her sense of horror Anne has a pragmatic, even compassionate, take-away.
Andrew Worrell is pictured with a walker after having returned home from the hospital
‘I don’t want to be scared. I don’t want other people to be scared. I feel very passionately about taking a stand and saying, ”This is not acceptable,” but…I don’t necessarily see myself wanting Buckhead to be split off,’ Anne said
It’s been three weeks since the 41-year-old father of three was shot while walking near his home in Buckhead. His wife Anne described hearing of her husband’s injuries
It has since emerged that Newsom suffers from a host of mental health issues and while she does not feel that absolves him of accountability it does mitigate Anne’s outrage.
She said, ‘I don’t want to diminish the fact that there is just a general crime problem, but I do think that mental health is an issue that needs to be addressed.
‘I don’t have the answers, but I think an issue here is how he was able to go and buy a gun at all.’
Anne admitted that she has friends who will no longer go to the mall or pump gas because they don’t feel safe. She said that when she goes to refuel her car she locks the doors when she pumps the gas, ‘So nobody can slip into the back seat and hold me at gunpoint.’
But despite this, she said, ‘Once police had ascertained that [the shooting] wasn’t gang related, it wasn’t a gang initiation, it did make me feel differently.
‘I don’t want to be scared. I don’t want other people to be scared. I feel very passionately about taking a stand and saying, ‘This is not acceptable,’ but…I don’t necessarily see myself wanting Buckhead to be split off.
‘Another reason is, so Buckhead gets this wonderful police department with all the bells and whistles, but then Atlanta turns into a rundown city with worse crime and we are right up against it.
‘If Atlanta were to break off who’s to say that crime wouldn’t find its way back into Buckhead? We’re not building a wall or gates or anything.’
It is a view shared by Lindsey who also points to the paucity of any real detail in the bill recently put to the General Assembly of Georgia, sponsored by Representative Todd Jones, in a push by White to secure the matter a slot on the ballot next November.
According to Lindsey, ‘This is a personal, very emotional issue for many people. But carving up our city is just the wrong answer.’
White disagrees and with his committee almost halfway to their target fund of $1.5million he exudes a Trumpian confidence that they will win.
He said, ‘I think the leadership of the city of Atlanta is causing Buckhead to spiral out of control in a very bad direction that, if we don’t correct immediately, some people are saying we may never get back.
‘That scares the hell out of me, and it should scare the hell out of everybody.
‘We need surgery not a Band-Aid and the surgeons have arrived.’