- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 11, 2006


Thomas Autry no longer has holes in his shoes.

He starts a new job today.

People from all over the United States have offered to send him money. Some have offered to buy him a new pair of shoes to replace the ones with worn soles that became symbolic of his story. On Thursday, veterans rewarded him with an honorary bag of sand from Iwo Jima during a luncheon in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood.

Mr. Autry is regarded as a hero for an act of self-defense that left one young person dead and another wounded. The incident still troubles Mr. Autry, even though it has made the former Marine a hero in the eyes of many.

Last month, Mr. Autry was walking home from his job waiting tables at Jocks and Jills restaurant, where he made $85.20 a week before tips.

Police say five teenagers, one armed with a shotgun and another with a .380-caliber pistol, piled out of a dark blue Cadillac and jumped him. Mr. Autry first tried to get away. But when the teens cornered him, he fought back with a small pocketknife. In the struggle, he fatally stabbed 17-year-old Amy Martin and seriously wounded Christopher Daniel, 18.

He later reflected on the irony that the accused teens driving an expensive car would choose someone with holes in his shoes and $12 in tips in his pocket.

The resulting public outpouring has moved the shy, 36-year-old Desert Storm veteran. “The people who are contacting me with love in their hearts are the ones I was fighting for in the Gulf War,” Mr. Autry said. “It’s affirming.”

DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Vernon Jones was so taken by Mr. Autry’s story that he offered him a job as a coordinator in the county’s work force development office. He will make $440 a week working on career programs for teenagers.

Mr. Jones said he was touched by Mr. Autry’s ordeal and was impressed by his quick response.

“I felt for him,” Mr. Jones said. “My dad and my four brothers are veterans.”

One admirer has bought him a pair of size 13 tennis shoes.

Despite the public praise heaped on him after the attack, Mr. Autry struggled with the idea of being called a hero and expressed sadness that he had taken one life and injured another teen.

Among the changes in his life are sessions with a counselor to help him with the emotional aftermath of the attack.

Life also has changed for the teens charged in the attack. Police said none has been in serious trouble before. All come from middle-class homes. At least one has a mother who teaches school and an older sister who just graduated from Columbia University.

Mr. Daniel, who lives with his parents in College Park, Ga., was released from Atlanta Medical Center on Wednesday and booked into jail. During Mr. Daniel’s first appearance at the Fulton County Jail on Thursday, Magistrate Judge Michael Wallace ordered him held on $40,000 bond on the aggravated assault charge. Mr. Wallace deferred setting bond on the armed robbery charge until a hearing this week.

The other teens have made initial appearances and remain in custody.

Dressed in the usual blue two-piece jail outfit with his hands cuffed, Mr. Daniel showed no sign of his injuries and seemed to rise easily when Mr. Wallace called his case.

Brian Steel, the attorney retained by Mr. Daniel’s parents, said his client was “well-liked in his community. There are people there who can raise money for his bond.”

Also charged are Kendall Barksdale, 17, of Atlanta, described as a popular young man admired by his peers, and Christopher Hayes, 18, of Douglasville, who was scheduled to graduate from Grady High School recently. A 16-year-old from Atlanta is being held at a youth detention center. Prosecutors are determining whether to try him as an adult.

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