Staff Photo: John Bohn A memorial vigil by candlelight is held for Dawntrae Williams on the one-year anniversary of his death. Police officers shot and killed Dawntrae when he reportedly ran at them screaming with a blade more than a foot long in his hands. Dr. Anita Harris, center, legal guardian to Dawntrae, holds a candle with Asiayona Harden, 11, left, and Keontis Transou, 13, right, as a prayer is said Wednesday evening in Lawrenceville.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- On the one-year anniversary of the death of Dawntrae Williams, his family is still searching for answers.
His grandmother and legal guardian, Anita Harris, and about 10 other family members and friends held a candlelight vigil on Thursday night at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center to remember Williams, and to see that the public doesn't forget him. Harris wrote a song that was performed at the vigil by Joy Parkman that she called an inspiration from God to honor her grandson.
Harris said time since the incident hasn't healed her feelings of loss.
Marcus Coleman, a representative from the Southeast region of the National Action Network, attended the vigil and said Williams' family strongly disagrees with how police have described how the incident took place.
Gwinnett police have said Williams reportedly jumped down all eight steps of his grandmother's porch and ran screaming at responding officers with a blade more than a foot long. Two responding officers opened fire on the mentally unstable 15-year-old and struck him five times, including a fatal shot to the chest.
"This case speaks specifically to mental health," Coleman said. "Dawntrae had a litany of conditions. Most the Gwinnett Police Department were aware of. If we don't get serious about helping the mentally challenged, things like Dawntrae will continue, and things like what happened in Connecticut will continue."
Coleman said he hasn't spoken to Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter about the case in six months, but he previously had two or three pleasant conversations with him. Coleman said Porter has told him the case is still under investigation.
Gwinnett Police Cpl. Edwin Ritter said shortly after the incident that Williams, "saw our officers as something other than friendly, and he was willing to fight to the end."
Coleman said Williams, 15, was 5 feet tall, 110 pounds and had the mentally capacity of a 10-year-old.
"If the Gwinnett Police Department has had this case for 365 days, it's time for another set of eyes," said Coleman, who pointed to the GBI and FBI. "The family is still hurting. There have been no answers, there has been no police report, there has been no meeting with the family. We feel like this case needs to go much further than the Gwinnett Police Department."