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Atlanta Investigates 1970s-80s Child Killings

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Atlanta is taking another look at the killings of 24 children in the city 40 years ago, the New York Times reports. Atlanta was terrorized by a serial killer who snatched and killed the children, mostly young African-American boys ages 7 to 17. They vanished regularly, only to have their bodies discovered weeks or months later in rivers, under a bridge and behind dumpsters. The murders shook a city that was emerging as a progressive black mecca. Gripped by fear, parents refused to let their children play outside. Some took their children out of school. In 1982, Wayne Williams was convicted of killing two adults. Police suspected that he was also responsible for most of the child murders, but neither he nor anyone else was charged with them.

After Williams was sent to prison, 22 of the unsolved child murder cases were closed. Some parents argue that the city yielded to political pressure and closed the books after Williams’s trial as a matter of convenience. The abrupt, unsatisfying end led to questions, doubts, anger and rumors. Through it all, the parents, gutted and grief stricken, have been searching for answers. Last month, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms ordered the cold cases reopened and the evidence retested using the most recent DNA technology. Bottoms hopes the new investigation will “help bring some peace to the families who for so long have felt like they were forgotten.” Williams, now 60, sits in a prison three hours south of Atlanta and denies he is a killer. Erika Shields, Atlanta’s police chief, said the new investigation is not about him but “is about being able to look these families in the eye and say we did everything we could possibly do to bring closure to your case.”

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