By BILL HUTCHINSON and SABINA GHEBREMEDHIN, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Since her son was allegedly hunted down by three white men and shot to death while out for a jog, Wanda Cooper-Jones said the memories of the life her son led and her quest for justice have sustained her over the past 365 days.
Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the death of her son, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, and Cooper-Jones said she plans to celebrate his life instead of dwelling on how he was chased and shot to death near his Brunswick, Georgia, home.
She and family members plan to hold a candlelight vigil at her son’s gravesite on Tuesday. They also plan to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the three men charged in her son’s death and against the Glynn County, Georgia, Police Department, alleging it shares accountability by encouraging its residents to rely on vigilante justice, the family’s attorney Lee Merritt told ABC News.
“I’m basically trying to just make it through the day. Each day is different,” Cooper-Jones said in an interview with ABC News. “Try not to dwell on so much of what happened and try to celebrate the son that I had that was taken away from me so tragically. I’m trying to think about the good memories that we shared, and that basically gets me through the day.”
Cooper-Jones said she also plans to use the solemn occasion to launch the Ahmaud Arbery Foundation, which will focus on combating racial injustice.
On Feb. 23, 2020, Arbery was out for an afternoon jog in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick when he stopped and went into a house under construction, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Surveillance video showed Arbery, who lived in another neighborhood of Brunswick, inside the unsecured house looking around, possibly for a water source, and then leaving, authorities said.
Arbery continued jogging past the home of Gregory McMichael, 64, a former Georgia police officer who was in front of his residence working on his boat. McMichael spotted Arbery and believed he matched the description of a burglary suspect seen on a surveillance video posted online by his neighborhood association, according to investigators.
Investigators said Gregory McMichael armed himself with a .357 Magnum revolver, which had been issued to him when he worked for the Glynn County Police Department and called his son, who allegedly armed himself with a pump-action shotgun. They got into a pickup truck together and went after Arbery, investigators said.
The McMichaels ordered Arbery to stop, but he kept running, investigators said. The father and son allegedly chased after him in their truck as Arbery tried to evade them, officials said.
William “Roddie” Bryan, a neighbor of the McMichaels, is accused of helping the father and son corner Arbery by allegedly using his pickup truck to block Arbery’s path and striking him with enough force to dent his vehicle, investigators said.
Eventually, Arbery found himself trapped between the McMichaels’ truck and Bryan’s vehicle, state investigators said. Travis McMichael, 34, got out of the truck with his shotgun, and he and Arbery began to fight in the street, authorities said.
Part of the confrontation was caught on a cellphone video taken by Bryan. The footage showed the first shotgun blast allegedly fired by Travis McMichael hitting Arbery in the chest and showing Arbery’s white T-shirt immediately soaked in blood.
Arbery was shot two additional times, once in the upper left chest and in the right wrist. Despite his wounds, he attempted to run but collapsed and died at the scene.
During a preliminary hearing in June for the McMichaels and Bryan, Richard Dial, a special agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, testified that Bryan told investigators that during the fatal confrontation, he heard Travis McMichael yell a racial slur to Arbery as he lay dying on the ground.
Travis and Gregory McMichael were arrested on May 8, about three months after the killing, and charged with murder and aggravated assault. Bryan, 50, who claimed through his attorney in media interviews that he had no involvement in the incident, was arrested on May 22 and charged with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
All three have pleaded not guilty and have been ordered to stand trial.
Merritt told ABC News that the indictments against the men are just a “first step on the road to justice.”
“That is a great sign of relief for that community and Miss Wanda Cooper-Jones specifically, but it can’t stop there. An indictment is not enough,” Merritt said. “We need a vigorous prosecution or appropriate sentence, which we believe is these men in jail for the rest of their lives.”
Cooper-Jones said she hopes to spend more time on Tuesday remembering how her “baby boy” lived and less time thinking of how he died.
“Ahmad was loved, and not only was he loved, Ahmaud allowed himself to love,” Cooper-Jones said. “Ahmaud was a brother. He was an uncle, he was a grandson. He was a nephew. Ahmad was more than just a jogger who decided to jog on that Sunday afternoon. Ahmaud was loved by many.”
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