LAWRENCEVILLE -- On the surface, it looked to neighbors like the most frightening type of armed robbery -- a home-invasion, at random, on an idyllic Saturday afternoon. Others had suspicions the resulting gunfire and dead body were anything but random.
The 2300 block of Bellefonte Avenue in The Villages at Huntcrest, an upscale townhouse development, teems on weekend afternoons with shoppers, walkers, bicyclists and kids trotting to the pool. Not the opportune time for robbers to covertly strike.
Gwinnett police called there a week ago to investigate a burglary found 24-year-old Lawrenceville resident Anthony Johnson Jr. shot dead in an end-unit. Elsewhere in the townhouse were the owner, Ricardo Linton, 27, and his mother, Violet, 52, police said. Both were unharmed.
A week later, police are calling the incident a clash between two drug-pushing teams. Arrest warrants indicate the drug trading hands was marijuana.
A day after the shooting, police arrested the homeowner, Linton, on felony charges of conspiracy to commit a crime. Investigators believe he set up the marijuana transaction.
Two days later, police booked Duluth resident Tyrone Thomas, 20, on drug and murder charges. Police believe he was on the side of Johnson and another man who came to the home, Terrane Denson, 21, of Buford -- the only player in the soured deal who's still at large, said Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith.
On Friday morning, a fugitive unit with the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office arrested an alleged co-conspirator of Linton's, Donald Bannister, 27. All suspects except Linton are charged with conspiracy, aggravated assault and felony murder.
Exactly what transpired in the townhouse remains under investigation. Police believe Denson and Thomas immediately fled the scene, and Bannister wasn't far behind. Smith said Linton's mother was elsewhere in the home when gunfire broke out.
In the killing's wake, neighbors gathered at a communal clubhouse and aired concerns. Namely, that the community -- gated at both entry streets -- has experienced an uptick in drug activity since the recession hit, home values dropped and more renters have moved in.
Neighborhood resident Richard Mullen believes gated communities are actually appealing to the low-level traffickers he believes have set up shop.
"It's been tough to get cops to patrol here after all, we are gated," Mullen wrote in an email. "It takes a bit of work to get in here."
Recent police activity includes an Aug. 9 narcotics raid that netted three arrests in another section of the Huntcrest community. A month later, Gwinnett police responded to a burglary at a townhouse on Strand Avenue. The two suspects fled when an AT&T technician spotted them, according to a police report.
Smith, the police spokesman, said he wasn't aware of any particular upswing in crime behind the gates of upper-tier communities. More concrete data on crimes in gated communities wasn't available late Friday, he said.
"We have access to all of the gated communities in Gwinnett," Smith said, "but they don't typically receive as much attention as high-crime areas."
Police urge anyone with information on Denson's whereabouts to call 911. Smith asked tipsters with other information to call Gwinnett police at 770-513-5300 or Crime Stoppers at 404-577-TIPS.