Gay civic leader shot, killed outside Atlanta home

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UPDATE | Police arrest alleged killer of Barney Simms

A prominent gay civic leader, volunteer and neighborhood activist was gunned down in the front yard of his southwest Atlanta home on Saturday, killed by a single bullet before his assailant fled in the victim's Lexus.

Barney Simms, 70, was found dead in some bushes in his yard on Connally Drive after neighbors heard gunshots about 4 p.m. His front door was unlocked and his black Lexus, later recovered in neighboring East Point, was missing, according to the AJC.

Sgt. Warren Pickard, a spokesman for Atlanta police, said Simms was found on the ground in the bushes that separated his yard from his neighbor’s yard, with what appeared to be a single gun shot wound.

No suspects have been arrested in the shooting and Atlanta police have not released many details about the homicide. 

Simms (photo) was a longtime executive with the Atlanta Housing Authority until he retired in 2012 and sometimes tangled with LGBT bars over their liquor licenses when he served on and later presided over the Atlanta License & Review Board in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Simms' civic involvement was extensive, as noted in a Creative Loafing piece about his retirement from AHA after 10 years.

In addition to his role with the AHA, Simms has also worked actively as a civil leader for four decades, presiding over a long list of boards including the Fulton County DFCS Advisory Board, Andrew and Walter Young Family YMCA, Foundation Board of Atlanta Metropolitan State College, chairman of Atlanta Victims Assistance Inc., the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board, the Atlanta License and Review Board, and the Atlanta Beltline's steering committee.

Simms was also a longtime member of Antioch Baptist Church North, where he started attending services in 1969 and later served as a trustee. The church noted his volunteer and civic efforts on its website:

Brother Simms has established a remarkable record of volunteerism to Atlanta’s children and to the vitality of Atlanta neighborhoods covering more than three decades of service. Brother Simms currently serves as Chairman of the Board for several important Atlanta organizations that support the needs of children and families, including Chairman for the Fulton County Department of Family and Children Services, Chairman of the Board of the Atlanta Metropolitan College Foundation, Chairman of the Board for the Atlanta Victim Assistance, Inc., and Co-Chairman of the Board for the Walter and Andrew Young Family YMCA in Southwest Atlanta, and a member of the Boards of Trustees for Literacy Action, Inc., and the Antioch Urban Ministries, Inc.

Brother Simms is a highly regarded champion for the growth and vitality of Atlanta neighborhoods. He serves as the President of the BonnyBrook Neighborhood Association and Co-Chaired Mayor Shirley Franklin’s BeltLine Tax Allocation District Feasibility Study Steering Committee with Dr. Carl Patton, former President of Georgia State University. 

Neighborhood activists told WSB they are shocked about the killing.

“We haven’t overcome the shock,” said Hattie Dorsey, the founder and former president of the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, who has known Simms for decades.

They shared a common cause around issues like affordable housing and neighborhood development.

“He had a strong voice on behalf of his neighborhood, community and the whole of Atlanta’s underprivileged population and demonstrated that concern by working with the Atlanta Housing Authority for many years. His voice, personality and all that he was as a friend will be missed by many of us. You can’t do everything, but he tried to make a dent,” Dorsey said.

Brenda J. Muhammad, executive director of Atlanta Victim Assistance, said of Simms, “He was a friend and like a brother.”

Simms served as chairman of the board of the organization.

“It’s so, so sad that the chair (of) an organization that serves victims of crime, ultimately has become one. I hope his death is a clarion call that we’ve got to do something about the violence that plagues our community.”

LGBT elected officials and activists also reacted to Simms' death:

Alex Wan, the only openly gay member of the Atlanta City Council, called his killing “devastating.”

Devastating news. Barney was a great man that contributed so much to the city, all with a sly sense of humor and an impeccable sense of style.

Cathy Woolard, the first openly gay president of the Atlanta City Council who is now running for mayor, applauded Simms' for his long record of civic involvement.

I am shocked beyond measure to hear that Barney Sims was shot and killed in his front yard yesterday afternoon. Barney was a civic leader, a gentleman and a friend. The loss to Atlanta and his friends and family is unfathomable. I am sickened and sad.

Rafer Johnson, a gay candidate for the Georgia House, called Simms a friend who will always be remembered. 

A friend who helped thousands in his role at the Atlanta Housing Authority was taken away from us yesterday in ANOTHER act of gun violence. How many more will it take for us to make a change and reject violence of any kind? RIP Barney you will always be fondly remembered. Your work and legacy lives on.

Imara Canady, a former City Hall staffer for Mayor Shirley Franklin and community activist, called Simms a “true public servant.” Canady is now Atlanta-based regional director for communications and community engagement for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which operates AID Atlanta.

Very sad to learn of the death of Barney Simms!! We MUST end the violence!! Another true public servant to humanity has been taken away!

A vigil for Simms is set for Monday evening near his home.

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