Home Page Table of Contents Update Page Jennifer Ross January 5, 2006 January 7, 2006 January 8, 2006 January 31, 2006 February 8, 2006

This Page is Jennifer Ross Update 2: January 7, 2006

- No Suspects as Yet In Jennifer Ross Murder -

- But, Finally an Article is Written about Black Crime in Savannah -



See Comment Below


Posted on Sat, Jan. 07, 2006

- Debutante slaying shows ugly side of picturesque Savannah -

Russ Bynum

Associated Press, Savannah, Georgia


In manicured bushes on Orleans Square, where a fountain bubbles beneath gnarled oaks, two bouquets of roses lay near the spot where a debutante fell to a mugger's bullet before dawn on Christmas Eve.

A robber shot 19-year-old Jennifer Ross a few hours after she danced with her father at Savannah's Christmas Cotillion, her formal introduction as a woman of society in Georgia's oldest city. She died New Year's Day at the hospital where her father is a senior executive.

The shooting in Savannah's downtown historic district has outraged the local elite, with a group of prominent business leaders demanding a fierce crackdown on crime.

It has also put a spotlight on something residents of antebellum homes on the city's famous squares know too well, but visitors often are surprised to learn - Savannah's most picturesque places mask an underbelly of crime.

"It's such a peaceful city with the Spanish moss hanging down. It's alluring is what it is," said Dian Brownfield, a former president of the city's Downtown Neighborhood Association. "I think people just can't imagine any violence happening in a city like Savannah."

The murder of Ross, who had been studying international business at Mercer University in Macon, was the 29th slaying reported by Savannah-Chatham County police in the past year. None of the others provoked such an outcry.

In the week after Ross' death, influential business owners, bankers and real estate brokers met at the Chamber of Commerce demanding action. Angry e-mails swamped the mayor's inbox. Officials swiftly ordered sheriff's deputies, normally limited to guarding the courthouse and county jail, to augment police patrols on the streets. No one has been arrested in the killing.

During Ross' funeral at St. John's Episcopal Church on Thursday, the pews filled quickly and more than 100 mourners stood silently around the steps outside until pallbearers carried her casket out.

"It's just so senseless," said Ross' uncle, Adger Ross. "I think Jennifer represents the everyman scenario, it could have been any of us. Here we had a 19-year-old girl, the world was at her fingertips."

Others say the Ross family's social standing fired up a wealthy and powerful constituency rarely touched by violence. Ross' father, Rusty Ross, is a senior vice president and attorney for Memorial Health University Medical Center.

"Where the hell have they been all this time?" was the immediate response of Mayor Otis Johnson as the City Council met last week.

Johnson, Savannah's second black mayor, has made curbing crime a priority since taking office two years ago. He's held town meetings, publicly accused other black leaders of apathy, and issued a 2005 task-force report criticizing police for setting low crime-fighting goals and having too many officers behind desks, not on the streets.

Local business leaders, the mayor says, remained largely silent until Ross' slaying.

"They're too intelligent to be clueless," Johnson said. "They had more important things to commit their time to. Now it has come home to roost in their backyard."

Interim Police Chief Willie Lovett, in his first week in charge after Chief Dan Flynn retired last year, has proposed aggressive patrols of public housing projects bordering the city's historic district. Meanwhile, he's trying to fill more than 50 vacancies in his 580-officer department.

Few murders occur in the downtown district, which draws about 6 million tourists a year who marvel at Savannah's 19th Century mansions and marble monuments.

But street robberies are common. After dark, the district's magnolia-lined sidewalks become a magnet for muggers, often armed with guns. Savannah had 656 robberies in 2004, more than half the 1,105 violent crimes the city reported to the FBI that year.

More people get robbed in the historic district than any part of Savannah, according to Daniel Lockwood, a criminal justice professor at Savannah State University who studies local crime patterns by mapping police statistics.

What makes the city's most celebrated area so dangerous, Lockwood says, is it's location. The historic district, roughly 2.5 square miles, is bordered by housing projects and low-income neighborhoods.
"You could almost say the historic district is surrounded by places where people live who are more likely than others to commit violent crime," Lockwood said.

Savannah posted a higher murder rate, 17.7 slayings per 100,000 residents in 2004, than any of Georgia's seven metropolitan cities other than Atlanta. Its rate was more than double that of Charleston, S.C., another historic Southern city of similar size.

Other slayings have haunted Savannah's historic district. A mugger fatally shot Gail Vasilkioti, 56, of New York in the back outside an inn while she was vacationing in September 1999. Her killer was sentenced to life in prison in 2003.

In 2004, Army Capt. Scott T. Corwin, 27, was gunned down on the street next to Monterey Square near his downtown apartment. Residents who rushed to his aid remain frustrated that his killer was never caught. They continue to see lesser crimes right outside their homes.

"There is male prostitution on our square probably every night," said Mills Flemming, whose home sits on Monterey Square. "When the bars let out at 3 a.m., drunk people usually walk in, hollering and screaming. Sometimes fights break out."

Anthony Hernandez, who rents an apartment on the square, was mugged at gunpoint downtown a month after he watched Corwin dying in the street.

"I often feel safer walking around San Juan, which is a drug haven, at night than I do in Savannah," said Hernandez, a financial analyst whose family is from Puerto Rico. "I had a gun pulled on me, in my face, all for $48 and a cell phone. It was at 8:30 at night."

The Christmas Cotillion that Ross attended Dec. 23 on Savannah's downtown riverfront "should have been a highlight of her life," her uncle said, remembering his niece in her white gown being presented to the crowd.
Afterward, Ross kept the celebration going with friends at City Market, a popular downtown cluster of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. In the wee hours of Christmas Eve, Ross and three friends headed off in search of a taxi.

At about 3 a.m., after passing through nearby Orleans Square, three men emerged from the shadows. One struck Ross' friend Bret Finley in the head and demanded his wallet at gunpoint. Finley, 20, told police he heard two shots. The attackers ran. Ross lay in the street, shot.

Her condition seemed to improve over the next week. Ross recovered enough to talk with family and give a police interview. Then she died suddenly New Year's Day after an artery wall weakened by the bullet ruptured, said David Simons, a family spokesman.

"We certainly got an extra week with my niece due. In hindsight, it was a godsend," Ross' uncle said. "It was an opportunity to express love that too often we don't get around to."


Comment: This article appeared in three Georgia and three South Carolina Newspapers, but nowhere outside of the area where the killing took place. The reader will notice that the killer is referred to as a mugger and a robber, but his race is not given. If the killer had been any race but Black, one can be sure that this would have been mentioned. One lesson that can be learned from this murder is that you should not go wandering around a city where so many Blacks live looking for a taxi. Stay where you are and call a taxi; taxis are radio dispatched. You can even ask the driver to come in to the restaurant, bar or hotel where you are and announce that he has arrived. You must take every precaution possible in the current violent society that we live in, especially when Blacks live in the area.



Home Page Table of Contents Update Page Jennifer Ross January 5, 2006 January 7, 2006 January 8, 2006 January 31, 2006 February 8, 2006