‘We’re hopeful’: Police investigate as injured gay Atlanta man shows signs of life

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A gay Atlanta man found critically injured on railroad tracks near Piedmont Road last month is out of intensive care and starting to breathe on his own.

But over three weeks later, it’s still a mystery how Josh Dowd ended up on the tracks with a severe head wound and barely breathing. The Atlanta Police Department is investigating the incident.

Dowd’s partner Colin Kelly is looking for answers.  

“Did he walk there by himself, did he walk with someone?” Kelly said to Project Q Atlanta. “What happened on that route, and ultimately what happened to him?”

Dowd, 28, was found near Piedmont Road at Lakeshore Drive with a severe laceration on the back of his head around 8 a.m. on July 11, according to police. There were no surveillance cameras near the incident. Dowd was found with his phone and debit card, and was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital.

Dowd was last seen with friends at the Heretic on Cheshire Bridge Road, according to video his family shared with 11Alive (see below). It’s about a two-thirds of a mile walk from the railroad tracks behind the gay club to the spot where Dowd was found later that morning.

Dowd’s family also shared a video with 11Alive that was posted to his Instagram account around 4 a.m. the day he was found injured. Crickets and frogs can be heard in the background of the near-pitch black video that was overlaid with a message: “Nobody can be forgiven for what they left me with … you’re dead to me.”

Dowd’s phone records also show an 11-minute call around the same time the video was posted, according to Kelly. He said Atlanta police spoke with the man on that call and he’s cooperating with the investigation.  

“They’re continuing to verify his account of everything,” said Kelly, who was out of town when Dowd was injured.

Atlanta police did not answer Project Q’s question about the call.

“We do not have any new information to release, but I can tell you our investigators are following up on leads and we continue asking anyone with information in this case to call Crime Stoppers,” Sgt. John Chafee said.

Kelly and friends of Dowd’s criticized the police for initially labeling what happened as a “miscellaneous non-crime” on the incident report.

“I would just really love to understand why it was listed that way in the first place,” Kelly said. “If it was a mistake, I get it, mistakes happen. But just let me know. I can’t get an answer on that, and I really would love one.”

Chafee said it was unclear how Dowd was injured when the report for the July 11 incident was completed.

“Though the report was labeled a non-crime, investigators with our Aggravated Assault Unit were quickly assigned to the case and have been actively investigating it,” he said.

Kelly said a police sergeant has since been updating him on the investigation.

“He’s pretty limited in what he can tell me, and I fully understand that,” he said. “As long as they are making progress and running it down aggressively, I’m fine with that.”

Josh Dowd (left) and partner Colin Kelly (right). (Photo via Facebook)

‘We’re hopeful he’ll have a breakthrough’

Dowd’s race raised concerns that the case is an anti-Asian hate crime, incidents that spiked in 2020. That drew the attention of state Rep. Sam Park, who was the first gay man and first Asian-American Democrat elected to the Georgia legislature.

“It certainly hits closer to home as a fellow gay Asian in the South,” he said. “You can see yourself in these types of situations, and of course with the elevated increase of violence and discrimination against Asian-Americans across the country, that remains top of mind and an ongoing concern of mine.”

Kelly said Park is very supportive.

Dowd was transferred from the Intensive Care Unit at Grady Hospital to Select Specialty Hospital in Midtown for long-term acute care on July 25, according to Kelly.

“He can respond to commands some of the time,” he said. “Every day he gets a bit more alert. His eyes are open, he’s scanning. He makes new movements most days and has new behaviors. We’re hopeful he’ll have a breakthrough.”

Dowd’s best friend, Kim Rivas, said she’s seen “an amazing change” in him.

“He looks like our Joshy again,” she said. “He gives us bursts of energy when he moves his arms. He was a complete firework on Saturday. Sunday and [Monday] were quiet days. Those are the hardest, but we know he’s healing and it’s OK.”

Dowd is also being weaned off a ventilator and can breathe on his own for about 10 hours at a time, according to Kelly.

“There are tons of signs of life,” he said.

But Dowd is still unable to speak, so he can’t tell anyone what happened.

Rivas helped start a GoFundMe campaign to pay for Dowd’s medical bills. It’s raised about $130,000 of a $300,000 goal. Kelly said the Grady bill alone was over $600,000 and it was unclear how much Dowd’s insurance would cover.  

“This is going to be a nightmare well after Josh recovers,” he said.

Dowd is a massage therapist and chiropractic assistant at Atlanta Spine & Wellness in Chamblee.

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