For years, Kim Russell didn’t talk about the night her friend was shot to death.
She and Philip Rau, a Norcross High School teacher famous for lavishing his students with french fries during study parties, were leaving a party in Inman Park in April 1999 when an attacker stole Rau’s wallet and fatally shot him. Russell crawled underneath a pickup truck and shoved her purse out. Don’t shoot, she pleaded. I don’t see you.
She was shot in the back before the gunman fled.
A stolen cellphone led cops to Travellis Hamilton, then 17. He pleaded guilty to murder, two counts of aggravated assault and armed robbery. Russell, then Kim Parker, moved to New York and tried to forget.
“I got married and had kids. I left it behind,” she said during an interview Saturday while a rally protesting the National Rifle Association’s political clout was going on. “Then Sandy Hook happened and it turned everything on its head.”
The massacre in Newtown, Conn. left 20 children and seven adults (including the mother of gunman Adam Lanza, who then shot himself) dead. Russell struggled with post traumatic stress syndrome as the deadly shooting she survived came flashing back. Then she got busy.
Today she’s executive advisor for the Women’s March and joined actress Alyssa Milano and other activists at a rally in a park around the corner from where the National Rifle Association is holding its 147th convention. The park also is just down the street from where a sniper shot five officers to death in July 2016. Micah Xavier Johnson was killed after a subsequent standoff with law enforcement.
““I can’t not do this,” Russell said. ” It is time for lawmakers to hear and listen from people who are most impacted by gun violence. They need to hear what we know: guns do not make us safe.”
She grew up in Jonesboro and went to high school in Smyrna (Julia Roberts was her classmate) and still has family in Atlanta.
“I lived on a dirt road with cows,” she said. “I really do get gun culture.”
After Rau was shot to death, she said, she had to endure a radio talk show host opining that if only she’d had a gun with her that night, she could have saved her friend’s life.
“He wasn’t there,” she said. “If I’d had a gun that night, I’d be dead.”
Hamilton is currently incarcerated at Autry State Prison Autry State Prison in Mitchell County according to Georgia Department of Corrections data. He drew a life sentence but is eligible for parole, the Department of Corrections site indicates.
“My shooter’s probably going to get out in a couple of years,” Russell said. “He’ll be able to go to gun shows. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask that he submit to a background check.”