ATLANTA – Wanda Cooper-Jones still wonders why, one year ago, her son Ahmaud ventured into the unfinished home in Satilla Shores, a middle-class neighborhood just outside Brunswick.
"Did he go in there to get a drink of water? To take a break? Whether he was looking at the wiring, I'm not sure," Cooper-Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Ahmaud Arbery, 25, had worked as an electrician with his three older brothers, she noted.
She said she takes some solace in the reforms brought about after her son's death. The fatal shooting led to Georgia finally passing a hate crimes law, for example.
"It still hurts that I lost Ahmaud," she said. "Knowing that Ahmaud was possibly involved in change tells me he didn't lose his life in vain."
Still, she wonders about her son's final day. She is convinced Ahmaud hadn't gone there to steal anything, as was alleged by Greg and Travis McMichael, the father and son charged in the Feb. 23, 2020, shooting. The older McMichael is a retired investigator with the Glynn County District Attorney's office.
The McMichaels pursued Ahmaud in their truck. Neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan joined them. All three are charged with felony murder.
Interviewed by Glynn County police minutes after the shooting, Greg McMichael, who provided armed cover for Travis from the bed of the truck, said, "To be … honest with you if I could've shot the guy, I would've shot him myself."
Two months after Ahmaud's death, Cooper-Jones had lost hope that his killers would ever be held accountable. Then-Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson, Greg McMichael's former employer, had passed the case along to neighboring DA George Barnhill, whose son had worked with McMichael.
Barnhill was prepared to clear the McMichaels and Bryan, writing to a Glynn police captain that "we do not see grounds for an arrest of any of the three parties."
On May 5, an attorney acting on a request by Greg McMichael gave a copy of the video of Arbery's shooting, recorded by Bryan, to a local radio station. It went viral within hours. By the end of the day the GBI had taken over the investigation.
Cooper-Jones has moved out of Brunswick, settling near family in Augusta. "Some days I don't get out of bed," she said. "It's just hard sometimes."
So she keeps her focus on her son, preserving his memory in any way she can. She's attended every court hearing for the men charged in the shooting. Cobb prosecutors have said put the McMichaels and Bryan on notice that they may seek a sentence of life in prison if they are convicted.
"He's never going to come back," she said. "Not next week, not next month, not next year. I'm just finally getting that reality check."