Atlanta police are asking for the public's help in identifying a man who shared a meal at Waffle House with a gay civic leader a short time before he was gunned down and killed in the front yard of his home.
The man ate with Barney Simms at a Waffle House on Virginia Avenue shortly before 2 p.m. on Saturday, according to Lt. Charles Hampton, an Atlanta police homicide detective. Sometime after 2:30 p.m., Simms was shot several times and collapsed in the front yard of his home on Connally Drive in southwest Atlanta – about a 15-minute drive from the restaurant. Neighbors discovered the body of Simms in the bushes a few hours later.
Police obtained photos of the man that ate with Simms from security cameras at Waffle House. Hampton said they expect to have video footage from the restaurant as soon as Tuesday.
“This individual, we really need help getting him identified,” Hampton (top photo) said during a press conference on Monday. (Watch below) “He may have been the last person who saw Mr. Simms alive and we need the community's help to help us identify this individual so we can further our investigation.”
Hampton said investigators aren't sure if the unidentified man (second photo) had a role in Simms' death. But the two men knew one another, he added.
“Somehow we think he knows him. It is too early to speculate but it appears that he knew who this individual was,” Hampton said.
Simms, 70, was a former executive with the Atlanta Housing Authority and served on several city-related boards and commissions as well as neighborhood and civic groups.
When Simms was killed, the front door to his home was open and his black Lexus – found early Sunday morning in neighboring East Point – was missing. Hampton would not say what motivated the homicide or if the person that killed Simms had been inside the home.
“I am not going to speculate on that,” he said. “We still haven't verified a motive or anything so it could be robbery, it could be anything.”
Simms' killing prompted an outpouring of grief from public officials, community activists and church members who knew or worked with Simms. LGBT activists and elected officials called his death “devastating.”
A vigil is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. outside Simms' home, where friends and family gathered throughout the day on Monday.
Dacha Eberhart said the “unconditional love” between he and Simms kept their friendship strong for more than 30 years.
“He would do anything that he could for you,” Eberhart said as he stood in Simms' manicured front yard. “He was there for me when my mom passed, when my dad passed.”
Eberhart said Simms had a partner, but the man did not live at the Connally Drive home. Police said no one else was inside the house when they arrived on Saturday.
“He loved living, he loved life. He loved his family and his garden,” Eberhart said.