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‘18 Shots Fired’: Nephew of Future Atlanta Mayor Gunned Down In ‘Mistaken Identity’ Case
In the aftermath of a fatal ambush on a city street, Atlanta police faced a perplexing case.
Just after 4 a.m. on June 13, 2014, gunshots rang out – over and over and over. Atlanta police raced to respond to a 911 report of a street shooting.
In the driver’s seat of a silver Hyundai, they found 18-year-old Darius Bottoms, nephew of councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms.
“There were 18 shots fired at this vehicle,” investigators told “The Real Murders of Atlanta,” airing Fridays at 9/8c on Oxygen. “The manner in which this was carried out was not accidental.”
A CSI unit processed the crime scene and recovered 18 spent 9mm shell casings. But only one bullet went through the windshield, struck Bottoms in the forehead and killed him
Bottoms’ devastated parents grappled with the tragic news. “I remember sitting on the curb and just crying,” said his mother, Myeka Jennings.
Investigators learned that Bottoms was a family and community-oriented business major at Atlanta Metropolitan State College. Witnesses described him as “an outstanding young man,” said Clint Rucker, Executive A.D.A, Fulton County Attorney’s Office.
Police wondered if a carjacking had turned deadly, unable to immediately determine what set the crime in motion. Hoping to get answers police spoke with 18-year-old Jared Williams, who was a passenger in Bottoms’ car.
Before the shooting Bottoms and Williams had been at a nearby friend's house playing video games. Williams was catching a ride home with Bottoms but as they began driving, they “made eye contact with an individual in the middle of the street,” Williams told police. Suddenly the person started shooting at them.
Bottoms tried to drive away but couldn’t. Williams jumped out of the car and ran. Williams' details were blurry. He wore contact lenses but didn’t have them in that night and didn't get a good look at the shooter.
Police hoped that ballistics evidence would provide a lead. The crime lab determined that two 9mm pistols were used and that Bottoms had been caught in the crossfire.
“It was very clear to me that this was a very intentional murder,” Rucker told producers. But why had Bottoms been targeted?
Detectives considered that he may have been a “collateral murder” to send a political message to his aunt, who was running for the mayor’s office, according to investigators.
Detectives looked into potential suspects tied to the political arena, but the line of investigation was a dead end.
They switched their focus to learn if Bottoms' friends, in case he had dangerous associations. After all, the location of the shooting was an epicenter of gang activity, according to investigators, who tapped the Atlanta PD’s gang unit for assistance. However, they found no evidence tying Bottoms to illicit activity.
A month after the slaying investigators were chasing any and all leads. Then, in September, information from the ballistics lab finally advanced the case.
Police learned that eight days after Bottoms was killed, 18-year-old David Wallace was arrested for possession of a stolen gun, which was determined to be one of the guns used in Bottoms' slaying. The serial number on the gun revealed that it had been stolen in an armed robbery in Clayton County a day before Bottoms was killed, according to Brett Zimbrick, a homicide detective with the Atlanta Police Department.
It was stolen from a woman who had just purchased it at a pawn shop on June 12. Hours later it was used to shoot Bottoms.
Detectives checked Wallace out of the Fulton County jail, placed him in a squad car and interviewed him at the Bottoms crime scene. Wallace denied ever being in that location before.
Investigators turned their attention to the victim of the gun robbery, who was unable to identify Wallace in a photo array. Police obtained surveillance video from the pawn shop, which showed Wallace along with a young man and a woman. Detectives identified the woman and spoke with her aunt, who said her niece had fled after there was a drive-by shooting she believed was aimed at her.
A month later, the woman reached out to police from Florida. She’d learned from her aunt that detectives wanted to speak with her.
She told investigators she was at the Bottoms crime scene, though she didn’t know who’d been shot. She’d driven the getaway car and identified Wallace as being there. Two men she knew as “Slug” and “Shooter” were the gunmen.
“Slug” was identified by detectives as Rashad Barber and “Shooter” as Ryan Bowdery. The young woman confirmed that they were involved through police photos.
As for the motive, police discovered Bottoms was targeted by mistake. The young woman told them that he “was the victim of a mistaken identity,” said Rucker.
“Darius and Jared were at the wrong place at the wrong time," added Tyrone Dennis, a former detective with the Atlanta Police Department.
The young woman explained that the night before Bottoms was killed, Bowdery’s stepfather had been shot and severely injured in front of his house. Bowdery believed that the shooter drove a light-colored Hyundai, so when Bowdery and his cohorts spotted Bottoms’ car, they believed they’d found the person who’d shot Bowdery’s stepfather. Bottoms was a fatal victim of retaliation.
Police obtained arrest warrants for Bowdery, Barber and Wallace — the latter was already in jail. They were charged with murder. In exchange for her cooperation at the trial, the young woman was granted immunity for Bottoms’ murder.
In December 2017, the trial was set to begin. Keisha Lance Bottoms was now Atlanta’s Mayor-elect, which shone a bright spotlight on the court proceedings.
She attended the trial “not just as a mayor but as an auntie,” said Atlanta television journalist Shaunya Chavis.
Barber, then 19, Bowdery, then 23, and Wallace, then 22, were convicted for murder and other charges, reported WSB-TV. They all were sentenced to life in prison.
To learn more about the case, watch “The Real Murders of Atlanta,” airing Fridays at 9/8c on Oxygen.