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Atlanta officials announce fresh investigation into decades-old child murder cases

"A lot has changed in Atlanta since 1979," Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said. “We now know that DNA technology is much more advanced. It did not exist in 1981.”
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ATLANTA - Officials announced Thursday they will re-evaluate evidence in a series of murders of black children and young adults in Atlanta between 1979 and 1981.

"A lot has changed in Atlanta since 1979," Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a news conference. “We now know that DNA technology is much more advanced. It did not exist in 1981.”

The string of murders drew national attention, prompting television news broadcasts to run advertisements asking viewers, "It's 10 p.m., do you know where your children are?" The murders were the subject of a popular true-crime podcast -- 'Atlanta Monster' -- and an upcoming docuseries from Hollywood power player Will Packer.

The mayor's office will work with the Atlanta Police Department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to examine old evidence using new technology to see if they can learn more about the largely unsolved cases.

Last week, Bottoms announced her administration had formed a task force focused on exploring how to remember the victims of the 'Atlanta Child Murders.' Some families have been waiting decades for a physical space to pay tribute to their children.

She made it clear that this does not mean they are “reopening” the case, but said “it would certainly be in order” to look at evidence the city and the Investigation Bureau have in their possession. She wants to “determine once and for all if there is additional evidence that may be tested that may give some peace to the victims’ families.”

Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said it was difficult to find where the evidence in the case was stored, which is “indicative that it hasn’t been gone through exhaustively.”

Bottoms added that looking back at the evidence is part of her effort to make sure the victims' memories are not forgotten, and “to make sure, in the truest sense of the word, to let the world know that black lives do matter."

The mayor's announcement came just two days before Investigation Discovery’s three-hour documentary series about the cases is slated to air.

For almost 40 years, Wayne Williams has remained in jail after he was sentenced to life in prison in 1982 when he was charged with the murders of two adults. At the time, police said Williams was responsible for most of the child murders but he was never tried for the crimes.

Through the years, Williams has maintained his innocence and some have questioned whether he truly committed the crimes.

The series explores how the cases were handled and if Williams is truly the killer.

Image: Wayne Williams at the Valdosta State Prison in Georgia in 1999.
Wayne Williams at the Valdosta State Prison in Georgia in 1999. Williams was blamed for the murders of young boys and men in the Atlanta area during the 1970's and 1980's.John Bazemore / AP file

Packer is one of the executive producers on the project and told NBC Nightly News that the cases are "one of the great American tragedies that in my opinion hasn't gotten enough of a profile. There hasn't been enough attention paid to what was a great travesty."

Known for producing box office hits such as “Girl’s Trip,” “Think Like a Man,” and “Stomp the Yard,” Packer said this project caught his eye because justice still has not been served.

"What a lot of people don't understand is that a lot of these family members who are survivors, they have never had true closure," he said.

One of the murder victims -- Curtis Walker -- was described by family members as a child who was always smiling and loved to ride bicycles. He was 13 years old when he went to the grocery store and never came home. His body was later found in a neighborhood river.

Curtis' mother, Catherine Leach-Bell, remains frustrated with how the cases were handled.

“A lot of parents went on with a broken heart,” she told NBC Nightly News. “They couldn’t get no justice. They couldn’t get nothing, nobody wanted to listen to us.”

Leach-Bell calls herself a fighter and explained that she is still fighting for justice for Curtis.

“Our kids, all our children have been forgotten here in Atlanta.”