For those who grew up in the city of Atlanta in the ’70s and ’80s, the name Wayne Williams carries a certain weight. Though he wasn’t convicted of murdering any children (he was, though, convicted of murdering two adults), he’s the man largely considered responsible for the infamous two-year stretch that saw the deaths of at least 28 children (and a few adults) across Atlanta dubbed “The Atlanta Child Murders.”
Since the 1980s, the Atlanta Child Murders, and the way in which the case was prosecuted, to include the media circus and political concern, has come under much scrutiny. While Williams is serving the remainder of his life in prison for the crimes, many, especially those in the black community, felt like he wasn’t given a fair trial.
Last year’s popular podcast, Atlanta Monster, for many was the first time they really learned of both Wayne Williams and the infamous two-year stretch that turned him into Atlanta’s version of the boogie man. And recently, successful filmmaker Will Packer produced the three-part docu-series, The Atlanta Child Murders, for the Investigation Discovery channel, which helped usher along the renewed interest. So much so that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta Police Chief Erica Shields announced that the city would re-examine evidence from the decades-old cases to hopefully bring closure to the families of the victims, according to HuffPost:
“It would certainly be in order for us to look once again at evidence that the city of Atlanta has in its possession... and to determine once and for all if there’s additional evidence that may be tested that may give some peace ― to the extent that peace can be had in a situation like this ― to the victims’ families,” Bottoms said in a statement. “To let them know that we have done all that we can do... to make sure their memories are not forgotten, and in the truest sense of the word to let the world know that black lives do matter.” She also thanked Packer for bringing the murders back to light.
Although Atlanta police are not reopening the investigation, the department has set up a dedicated hotline as calls have been pouring in from tipsters since the announcement about re-examining the case, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
According to Packer, he felt the need to use his talents to tell a story that many aren’t aware of. Responding to the question of why this particular story of the child murders was important to him, he said, “...it’s about telling the story you may not know, or you may know and don’t know the details, and it may be about giving voice to folks who haven’t had a voice, an opportunity to tell their story on a national platform. That’s what this is. It’s about those family members of the victims who haven’t had an opportunity to tell their stories on a national platform.”
Packer cautioned that what happened in Atlanta could happen again if we don’t learn to value black and brown children. “If we’re not careful, something like this could still happen today, because we do not value lives of those who are the most vulnerable, who need our protection the most. We don’t value their lives in the same way.”
Hopefully, whatever new look the city of Atlanta takes helps the families of the victims in some way. After 40 years, I’m sure many have given up on the idea of anybody being brought to justice for their child’s murder, especially since according to various reports over the years, all of the families don’t believe Wayne Williams is guilty. And prayerfully, docu-series such as this help keep cities from repeating mistakes from the past that allowed crimes like the Atlanta child murders to persist.