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Suspect in Ahmaud Arbery killing called 911 days before about alleged trespasser

On the night of Feb. 11, Travis McMichael said he was driving his pickup truck past a construction site when he spotted someone he deemed suspicious, according to audio of a 911 call.

Less than two weeks before Ahmaud Arbery was pursued by two men and fatally shot after purportedly entering a home under construction in Brunswick, Georgia, one of the suspects reported an encounter with a man at the same building site.

Ahmaud Arbery.
Ahmaud Arbery.Courtesy of Family

Travis McMichael, one of the two men charged in Arbery’s killing on Feb. 23, said in a 911 call on Feb. 11 that he was driving his pickup truck past the construction site when he spotted someone he deemed suspicious, according to audio of the call obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"I was leaving the neighborhood and I just caught a guy running into a house being built," McMichael told the dispatcher, according to the newspaper. "When I turned around, he took off running into the house."

"We've been having a lot of burglaries and break-ins around here lately," McMichael told the operator.

Travis McMichael, 34, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 64, were arrested and charged on May 7 with murder and aggravated assaultin Arbery's death.

Arbery's family said he was out jogging on Feb. 23. Gregory McMichael said he and his son armed themselves and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after seeing him run down their street, according to a Glynn County police report. Gregory McMichael told police he suspected Arbery was a burglar who had recently been targeting the neighborhood. He also said Arbery attacked Travis McMichael and the two of them "started fighting over" his shotgun before the younger McMichael shot him, the police report said.

The Brunswick News, citing documents obtained through a public records request, reported that there had been just one confirmed burglary in the neighborhood from Jan. 1 to Feb. 23: the theft of a handgun from an unlocked truck parked outside Travis McMichael's house on Jan. 1.

On Feb. 11, Larry English, the owner of a home under construction in the neighborhood, received an alert after motion in the building site triggered a security camera, his attorney, Elizabeth Graddy said. English sent a text message to a neighbor, Diego Perez, asking him to check on the house, she said. Perez could not be reached for comment Thursday.

English, a beekeeper, lives in Douglas, about 90 miles from Brunswick, with his wife and two children.

Image: Gregory Johns McMichael, Travis James McMichael
Gregory McMichael, left, and his son Travis McMichael.Glynn County Detention Center via AP

According to Graddy, the neighbor sent English a text: "The police showed up and we all searched for a good while. I think he got spooked and ran after Travis confronted him. Travis says the guy ran into the house. Let me know if he shows up or if they find him."

A police report on the Feb. 11 incident said English had an ongoing issue with trespassing on the property, according to the Journal-Constitution.

This was one of a handful of times in the months before Arbery's fatal shooting that the motion-activated camera at the construction site captured video of someone inside the open-framed structure, Graddy said.

English never shared this information with either of the McMichaels, and did not know them, Graddy said.

English has declined to comment other than through his attorney.

"He never linked any of these videos to any one person or Mr. Arbery," Graddy said. "He didn't see these as burglaries."

"Even if there had been a robbery, however, the English family would not have wanted a vigilante response," Graddy told NBC News on Monday in reference to the Feb. 23 shooting. "They would have entrusted the matter to law enforcement authorities."

English has shared with Glynn County police security camera video from the building site taken on Feb. 11, Graddy said. He also shared with police a video from the day of Arbery's death that shows a black man wearing a T-shirt and shorts walking up to the construction site, entering and then leaving shortly afterward. Lawyers representing Arbery's family said in a statement Saturday that the security camera video from Feb. 23 proves Arbery did nothing wrong.

The Feb. 11 video, as with the one from Feb. 23, "was an after-the-fact piece of information that came out," Graddy said, referring to the fatal shooting.

The arrest of the McMichaels came two days after a graphic video of the shooting became public — thrusting the case into the national spotlight. Video of the shooting has prompted widespread outrage and raised concerns about racial inequities in the justice system.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, a lawyer for Travis McMichael, Robert Rubin, asked people who are following the case to temper their passions.

“All of the facts will come out,” he said. “Until then, we’re imploring everyone, for the sake of our communities, to take a breath. Let the facts develop. Let the case play out in court.”

Lawyers for Gregory McMichael, Laura Hogue and her husband Franklin Hogue, did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday.

Laura Hogue said in a statement to the Macon Telegraph: "So often the public accepts a narrative driven by an incomplete set of facts, one that vilifies a good person, based on a rush to judgment, which has happened in this case." Franklin Hogue said in the statement, “While the death of Ahmaud Arbery is a tragedy, causing deep grief to his family — a tragedy that at first appears to many to fit into a terrible pattern in American life — this case does not fit that pattern. The full story, to be revealed in time, will tell the truth about this case.”