MILTON, Ga. – It took a tragedy, but one Milton neighborhood has come together in ways just a year ago would have seemed unlikely.
Just over one year ago – March 12 – 19-year-old Alpharetta High School graduate Christopher Walker was shot and killed in his driveway.
It was a momentous event for the residents of Sonata Lane.
“I recognized his face, but I didn’t know him,” neighbor Katie Morris. “I didn’t know [his family] at all.”
Another neighbor, Tammi Kimsey, had a similar story.
“I had lived in my house for 18 years, and upon Chris' murder, I was saddened by the fact that I didn't know who my neighbors were. I knew a couple of them, but did not know the majority of them,” said Kimsey.
Her house is at the top of the cul de sac where Chris was murdered. From her driveway, you can see almost the entire street. Every vehicle that enters it has to drive by her home.
It is here that the residents decided to meet their neighbors.
Every Friday, the residents of the neighborhood – between 25 and 30 other them – gather on Kimsey’s driveway in folding chairs and sit in a semi-circle, looking out over the street.
They were small, informal block parties at first, as neighbors were uncertain of each other. Neighbors were asked to bring their own chairs and drinks and come whenever they wished. And they would sit and talk with each other.
“On any given Friday, and sometimes Saturday nights too, you can find a large group of us sitting in my driveway laughing, crying and just enjoying both our neighborhood and each other,” Kimsey said. “It's amazing to discover how much fun you can have with the people who live next door. We're just sad that it took a tragedy to make it happen.”
This has become the equivalent of the neighborhood watch, social circle and babysitter group for the street; they know who is supposed to be in the street and who is not.
“I go away now and I don’t ever worry about my home anymore,” said Morris, who moved into the neighborhood just over two years ago. “I’ve got an entire street looking after it.”
One resident said someone parked in her driveway one day while she was out of the house. She received a call from a neighbor telling her about it. Another neighbor had a strange man taking pictures of the house and entering the garage. It turned out it was her brother doing home improvements, but neighbors noticed what could have been a dangerous situation.
No one worries about their children being outside, since each house potentially has a set of eyes watching out for them.
“They watch out. If a strange car comes into my driveway, I can get a call from someone,” Morris said.
As cars drive by the group as they sit on the driveway, everyone there waves to them.
“We’ve all become a little more aware of suspicious stuff. We look out for each other and watch houses when we aren’t home,” Kimsey said.
In the last year, the neighbors have had two block parties, hold weekly driveway parties, celebrated Halloween together and helped coordinate a toy drive for Scottish Rite Children's Hospital.
“That tragedy changed our lives forever and has brought the neighbors of Silhouette Court closer together and we've all become best friends.”
On the one-year anniversary of Chris’ death, the neighborhood knew they had to do something for his family.
After the shooting the neighborhood was in shock, residents said. Children were afraid to go outside and no one was sure how to react to it.
The driveway parties helped solidify the neighborhood into more than just a group of people who happen to live near each other. Instead, they have become friends. And to commemorate the anniversary of the event that sadly started their friendships, they had to do something.
“We just wanted to band together and show we are a community,” Morris said.
They placed white ribbons on their mailboxes and lit nearly 200 luminaries to line the street. Food and hugs were delivered to Chris’ mother. Twenty white balloons were released into the air, one for each year Chris would be, had he lived.
“We're a very different neighborhood than we were a year ago,” Kimsey said