01/20/2008

Slain Ga. officer: Family deals with loss of a great man

Read the P1 News Report: 2 off-duty Ga. officers slain in ambush

By Paul Donsky
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

DEKALB, Ga. — How do you tell your kids that their father has been killed?

How do you explain that the man who wrestled with them on the floor, made up silly rap songs and was so fearless that he protected the public for a living, wouldn't be coming home?

LaToya Bryant decided not to sugarcoat anything.

She told the children — 10-year-old Kashell, 6-year-old Jaden and the baby, 2-year-old Kami — that their dad, DeKalb County police officer Ricky Byrant Jr., 26, had been shot and killed while working an off-duty job as a security guard at a south DeKalb apartment complex.

Bad guys did it, she told them. And we don't even know why.

Kashell immediately began to wail, which set off her younger brothers.

Suddenly, the darkening skies began to fill with snow. Huge flakes tumbled down, a rare sight for Georgia kids. Kashell stopped crying and looked outside with wonder.

"Look, my daddy brought the snow."

That was Wednesday. As she recalled the moment days later, LaToya, 26, had a faraway look as if she could hardly believe all that had happened.

The killers "took a great man away from his children," she said, sitting in her apartment in south DeKalb. "I never thought he'd be taken from this Earth because of someone's ignorance, someone's foolishness."

Ricky and LaToya met when they were 13. LaToya, a St. Louis native, was visiting relatives in Rochester, N.Y., when she spotted Ricky at a friend's house.

They grew close, keeping in touch through phone calls, letters and additional summer visits. LaToya said Ricky's playful sense of humor drew her to him.

"When he laughs, you wind up laughing," she said, smiling. "He had this contagious laugh."

By the end of her freshman year, LaToya decided to move to Rochester and live with her grandmother. The official reason was to gain in-state residency to attend a public college in the area. But Ricky was the real reason, LaToya admitted.

Life moved quickly for the couple. Kashell was born when they were just 17. Ricky liked rough-housing with Jaden and Kami. "He loved wrestling with the boys," LaToya said. "He called it toughening them up." Eight-year-old Justice, Ricky's child from another relationship, lives in Rochester but sometimes stays in Atlanta.

In recent months, the couple had been separated.

Ricky didn't go to college, choosing instead to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. Ricky and LaToya got married in 2001 and moved to Atlanta in 2004 so Ricky could live out his dream of becoming a police officer.

LaToya said Ricky loved being a cop. He even volunteered for a job in the dangerous south precinct. "He wanted to be somewhere where he could make a neighborhood safe, make a difference," she said.

For LaToya Bryant, the future remains unclear. She's an administrative assistant at Emory University and hopes to get a nursing degree.

"I am frustrated, angry, hurt," she said. She also has "sadness for my kids for the fact that their dad is not here anymore, and he's not coming back."

Copyright 2008 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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