Horse statue dedicated to slain rider
by Sarah Fay Campbell
It has been more than a year now since Denice Roberts, a longtime rider at the Coweta Organization for Riding, Rehabilitation and Learning, was shot and killed by burglars fleeing the Fairburn home she shared with her grandmother.
The killers have never been caught, and there are no new leads.
At CORRAL, Roberts, who had cerebral palsy, will never be forgotten. She was one of the first two riders to participate when CORRAL opened its doors in 1987, and she'd been coming to enjoy the horses ever since.
The therapeutic horseback riding organization in Roscoe recently dedicated its painted horse statue to Roberts and a plaque was installed in her honor.
"We've never had anything like this happen to any of our family of kids," said Marie Powell of CORRAL. "When you deal with children like we deal with there are health issues and sometimes their life expectancy is short … but to be murdered like that, to be taken out like that."
The life-sized horse, painted with a rendering of the CORRAL barn on one side and children and riders on the other, was painted by Jack Jones. The horse was one of the many painted for the "Horsey Affair" project, a fundraiser for the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society. It was among the horses displayed in downtown Newnan.
The dedication was held before CORRAL's last horse show of the summer, said Powell. Roberts' grandmother, Betty Brown, attended. It was the first — and only — time she has been back to CORRAL since Robert's death on Aug. 10, 2012.
“Everybody was so glad to see her, because everybody had missed her,” Powell said. “She got to see a lot of the kids, a lot of the people that Denice had ridden with over the years.” Brown and Roberts had been at CORRAL every week for 25 years.
Powell said she thought to dedicate the horse to Roberts after finding that Brown visited the horses while arranged on the Court Square.
“Ms. Betty thought they were just gorgeous and said how Denice would have loved it.”
“I said, ‘You know, we are going to dedicate this horse to her,’” Powell said. She later met with her board and the plaque was created.
It’s difficult for family and friends to know that the person who killed Roberts is still at large. “I sure would like for them to have some kind of closure,” Powell said.
Powell doesn’t believe the burglars intended to kill Roberts. Roberts and Brown arrived home late one morning and discovered someone in their house. The two stopped on the front porch and called 911. The burglars then fled from the back of the home, jumped into a car and proceeded to drive away. At the end of the driveway, however, more than 60 feet away, a man leaned out of the car, firing a single shot.
It struck Roberts in the face, killing her.
Powell believes the burglars were trying to keep Roberts and Brown from getting a good look at them or the vehicle. They were successful. Brown could only describe a four-door passenger car, unable to provide any description of the burglars.
Still, Powell is sure the assailants will be caught someday. “They’re going to mess up one day,” she said.
It’s hard to say whether or not they intended to kill Roberts, said Detective Joshua Shelton with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department.
“That is a very tough shot to make,” even if someone is standing and aiming, said Shelton, lead investigator on the case. “[In some cases] burglars want to shoot one time to scare everybody, to make them think they are real tough guys,” Shelton said.
The case may be old, but it is still active.
“This case is constantly in the forefront of our consciences. We are always thinking about this case and always thinking about new and innovative ways we can develop any leads,” Shelton said.
Shelton is “confident that we will find the perpetrators of this crime one day. The people that did this are not alone. There’s no way the people who did this can hold onto it forever. It is eating them alive,” Shelton said.
Only one person fired the shot. The accomplice can ease his conscience by coming forward, Shelton said. The burglars dropped a television when they were discovered, but got away with some jewelry, including a silver box with roses engraved on the top, several rings, two angel lapel pins, a square-faced lady’s watch and a “colorful cross with a long gold chain.”
Hopes are that one day some of the stolen items will be recovered, leading detectives to the perpetrators. One ring is a pinky ring with clear stones set diagonally over an egg-shaped silver top. There is a silver ring with six clear stones surrounding a missing center stone. And there are two class rings. One is a gold band with a blue stone, from the class of 1968, engraved with the name “Joey.” The other is a gold band with a gold stone from an Alabama school. Shelton said a software program is being used to search pawn shop inventories.
Shelton is looking into putting information about the case on a billboard on Interstate 85 near Hwy. 74 in Fairburn. Brown and Roberts lived on Bohannon Road, just inside Fayette County.
“We want to be proactive in the case. But the biggest hurdle we have is the lack of leads,” Shelton said. “There is probably not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the case.”
“You couldn’t have a more innocent victim,” Shelton said. “It really affected everyone at the time it happened because of the innocence of the victim. No one deserves to be gunned down like that. But a woman who had never missed a day of Sunday school, never hurt anyone in her life, definitely does not deserve to be treated such a way. Then to take away her grandmother’s closest and only companion makes it twice as bad,” Shelton said.
“This is the most important case that I have. It sits right in front of me in a binder reminding me that this is not over until the bad guy gets locked up.”
Anyone with information regarding this case is asked to contact Shelton at 770-716-4777.