By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
What started as an aggravated assault case on June 29 became a murder investigation on July 4, after a 19-year-old Atmore man died from wounds he suffered when he was shot at a backyard gathering.
Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks confirmed late last week that city detectives are now in the midst of a homicide probe in the wake of the death of Demarkus Wanya Lawson.
Brooks said Lawson, a 2019 graduate of Escambia County High School, was shot once with a handgun while in the midst of a small group of people who had congregated in the yard of a White Street residence. Lawson passed away five days later, “due to complications from his injury.”
APD investigators have not been able to find a person among the group who will admit to witnessing the shooting.
“We were working it as an assault, then the victim passed away,” the police chief explained. “We have been investigating the shooting since the call first came out. The victim was with roughly six or eight people, and we’ve interviewed all of them multiple times.
“Nobody has forwarded any information to us. They all say they didn’t see anything.”
Brooks said investigators are not sure yet whether alcohol played a part in the fatal shooting, but the debris littering the yard makes them think it might.
“We don’t know for sure that alcohol was involved, but there was proof of a kind of large amount of alcohol there,” he said. “There were beer cans pretty much all over the backyard.”
Police reports show that dispatchers received a call around 9:17 p.m. on June 29 from an unidentified person who reported that a man had been shot at a White Street residence.
First-arriving officers noticed a car leaving the area with its emergency flashers engaged. A witness told police the “injured victim had been loaded into a personal vehicle and was being transported to Atmore Community Hospital,” so one officer raced to the hospital while the other secured the shooting site.
Lawson was stabilized at ACH and later airlifted to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, where he eventually succumbed to his injuries.
Brooks said investigators are working long hours to gather enough evidence to obtain an arrest warrant for the alleged shooter, despite a lack of help from those in closest proximity to the shooting.
“We’ve not made an arrest yet,” he said. “We want to make sure we have enough probable cause (for an arrest warrant). We’re basically waiting on search warrants for electronics — cell phone records, emails, things like that.”
The police chief urged anyone with information about the shooting to call 368-9141 and ask for an investigator.