The double murder and kidnapping case that evolved Sunday in Charlotte is just the latest in a series of tragedies to befall 11-year-old Arieyana Simone Forney.
Friends of her slain grandparents, Curtis and Ruby Atkinson, say the couple took in the girl after her father, Micah Atkinson, was murdered in 2013 in Charlotte.
Micah Atkinson is the dead couple’s son, friends say, and he is the brother of the man now suspected in the killing of Curtis, 63, and Ruby Atkinson, 62, on Sunday.
Curtis Atkinson Jr., 36, is believed to have kidnapped his niece after the double murder Sunday morning.
She was found late Sunday by police in Washington, D.C., after the car she was in crashed during a chase. Curtis Atkinson Jr. was the driver, authorities say. He is being held on local charges in Washington but will also be charged with the murder of his parents, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police said Monday afternoon.
On Monday, friends of Curtis and Ruby Atkinson described them as “good people” who cared for disabled friends in nearby homes and visited ailing neighbors when they were in the hospital. The couple doted over Arieyana and took care of her every need, friends say.
“When Arieyana got into volleyball, Curtis (Sr.) put a volleyball court in the front yard and had all the kids in the neighborhood come over and play,” said one neighbor, who asked not to be identified. “And when she got into basketball, he put up a basketball goal on the driveway. Whatever she wanted, he was there to make sure she survived and thrived beyond the death of her father. They were wonderful grandparents.”
The New York Daily News reported Monday morning that Curtis Atkinson Jr. was taken into custody after he crashed into another vehicle during a brief police chase on Independence Avenue SW, along the Tidal Basin. There were no serious injuries in the crash, which happened around 8:30 p.m., according to Washington-area media.
A third person in the vehicle was identified by police as Nikkia Cooper, 26. Cooper was arrested on drug charges, and police are investigating any role she might have had in the kidnapping and murders in Charlotte, CBS News reported. Court records indicate that Curtis Atkinson Jr. and Cooper had been sharing a home in the past year and were evicted the first week of March.
Arieyana was taken to a Washington-area hospital after the crash and appeared to be uninjured, it was reported.
Charlotte officials have said the chase in Washington happened after a female inside the car called police at about 8 p.m., saying she had been kidnapped. She was able to provide her approximate location to the dispatcher, and police quickly began searching for the 2005 white Chevrolet Impala. Authorities have not confirmed the caller was Arieyana.
CMPD detectives are working closely with the FBI, the SBI, the Washington Police Department and the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office to investigate the case.
Curtis and Ruby Atkinson were found dead at 11:05 a.m. Sunday, when Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police were called to assist the Charlotte Fire Department with a house fire in the 7500 block of Glencannon Drive. Observer news partner WBTV reported there was a shooting at the home and that there was an attempted arson at the crime scene.
Police said initial information indicated that a white 2005 Chevrolet Impala left the scene just before firefighters arrived. Detectives began canvassing the area for potential witnesses, then issued an Amber Alert requesting help finding Arieyana and the car.
Court records indicate Curtis Atkinson Jr. claimed the home as his address as far back as 2007.
Lengthy arrest record
Curtis Atkinson Jr. has a lengthy arrest record, including charges for drug dealing, assault, and possession of a firearm by a felon. Records show he was found guilty of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, assault and battery, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, possession of stolen goods, possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute and second-degree trespassing.
He served 11 months in prison and got out in 2011, records show.
“I’m not surprised at all this,” said one neighbor, who described Curtis and Ruby Atkinson as family friends. “He (Curtis Jr.) was always more of the troubled son, and in and out of trouble. So this wasn’t a shock, honestly.”
Another neighbor suggested there were troubles in the home, noting that Curtis Atkinson Jr. was “not allowed to have a key to the house.”
Nina Atkinson Chandler, the sister of Curtis Atkinson Sr., lives in Maryland and drove to Washington with her husband Monday afternoon to talk with child protective services officials about what is to become of Arieyana.
Chandler said Curtis Sr. and Ruby Atkinson took in Arieyana after their son’s death, because it was believed they could help her get a better education. Both Curtis Sr. and Ruby Atkinson had college degrees and successful careers, Chandler said. He was a graduate of Appalachian State and worked in internet technology before retiring, and Ruby Atkinson was a Realtor who worked under contract with some of the city’s big banks, Chandler said.
The two met and began dating as honor students in an elementary school in their hometown of Princeton, she said.
“Ruby was still furthering her education, getting a doctorate,” said Chandler. “Curtis (Sr.) loved working with his hands, so he was doing that. He’s had such a great sense of humor. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house once he got started.”
Chandler does not believe Curtis Atkinson Jr. had moved back in with his parents in recent weeks. However, she says it was common knowledge in the family that he was facing an eviction. “I was told that he (Curtis Jr.) was afraid of being homeless and they (Curtis Sr. and Ruby) had been talking to him about saving up some money to get a place,” Chandler said.
Volunteers at Elevation
The couple had been attending Elevation Church services since 2014, and the church sent out a statement Monday saying they were active volunteers at the Elevation Blakeney and Ballantyne locations.
“Arieyana is also an active volunteer,” said a statement from the church. “Our staff is connecting with and praying for CMPD, SBI, and DSS investigators who are active in the case, and are working with these agencies to ensure Arieyana’s needs are being met in this difficult time. We are also praying for Arieyana’s uncle Curtis and seeking ways to support the entire family.”
Records show Arieyana’s father died at the Kimmerly Glen Apartments on Endolwood Drive in Charlotte on Nov. 25, 2013. Police say they were called to the apartment about an assault with a deadly weapon and found two victims with life-threatening gunshot wounds.
Both victims were taken to Carolinas Medical Center, and Atkinson was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Curtis Atkinson Jr. was interviewed by WSOC after his brother’s death and said the family was heartbroken: “He got a daughter,” Atkinson told the station. “She had to see her daddy get buried on her birthday and it’s killing me. That was my younger brother, we were like this.”
Atkinson Jr. told WSOC he wanted closure in the murder: “I want justice for my brother.”
Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call 704-432-TIPS and speak directly to a Homicide Unit detective. The public can also call Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600 or visit the Crime Stoppers mobile app website at http://charlottecrimestoppers.com/.
Violent crime in Charlotte was up just over 10 percent in 2016, including more homicides and aggravated assaults, based on a report issued in January by CMPD.
Homicides last year increased 16.7 percent to 68, including three children. The city is on pace to eclipse that number in 2017.
Maria David contributed.