Savannah has a lot to boast about. Georgia’s first city attracts millions of tourists each year.
But those who live in Savannah know it has a darker side. With 53 murders last year, the city saw its highest number of homicides since the early 1990s.
Linda Wilder-Bryan walked down Duane Court on Savannah’s eastside. It was a calm night with no obvious signs that her 23-year-old son Lawrence was gunned down there last summer.
No one has been charged in his murder. She said there were witnesses to the crime but “nobody wants to say anything or be involved until it’s them or their children.”
Lawrence’s mother ran for city council in November. She didn’t win, but she took over 40 percent of the vote. She says as a former sergeant for the Chatham County Sheriff’s office, she knows crime, and Savannah officials were not taking it seriously.
"You did nothing," Wilder-Bryan accused. "And we want people to know you did nothing...And so we were put at risk."
The city’s police force hasn’t been at full staff in about 15 years.
Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin, hired at the end of 2014, said despite the concerns the department won’t stop trying to help people who have lost loved ones.
“We will be announcing shortly within a week or two a significant size cold case squad,” he announced, “to actually see can we bring some closure and some justice for some of these families.”
Kim Dulek, who is Wilder-Bryans' neighbor, also ran unsuccessfully for a city council position after several stray bullets flew through her kitchen window.
She said she isn’t a politician but “people are fed up and if things aren’t going to change, we can make it happen ourselves.”
Dulek started a grassroots effort called The Savannah Peace Initiative. It’s modeled after an international effort to place decorated poles in communities as symbols of peace. The 4" x 4" PVC poles will be placed at murder scenes across Savannah.
The first is scheduled to go up in March in dedication to her neighbor, Linda Wilder-Bryan’s son, Lawrence.
Not too far from where Bryan was killed, members of the group Moms Demand Action gathered with other Savannah residents on the lawn of Asbury Memorial Methodist Church.
They’ve launched a project called Ribbons for a Reason.
“We began hanging ribbons, one for each person in the Savannah area that we have lost to gun violence in 2015,” parishioner Ann Allen Westbrook said.
She stood outside the church beside a fence lined with bright orange ribbons tied in identical bows. Each bow had a tag with a victim’s name, age and the date they were killed.
Westbrook says the initiative came together shortly after the Charleston church shooting, “and after that shooting we said what can we do to start a dialogue about gun violence and the effect it has on our community and our country. So that’s when it all started.”
Perhaps no one knows the effect more than mothers who have lost children, like Linda Wilder-Bryan.
“I just miss his smile. He used to do the dance. Um, the one on 'Fresh Prince.' The Carlton dance for me, you know when he thought I was having a bad day or he thought that there something was bothering me, he knew that would always make me laugh.I miss his smell and his laughter.”
She said right now her heartache is overwhelming. Eventually she wants to start a foundation in honor of her son, but for now…she just misses him.