When Wilson Riddles and other customers come down to Rain Hair Boutique and Barber Shop on E.E. Butler Parkway in Gainesville, the big smile of Ricko Bledson is missing.
Bledson, 39, who friends say raised his voice to inspire the community around him, was shot and killed Aug. 6 at his Chinook Court home off Jim Crow Road in South Hall County.
“It’s hard to come in here now,” said barber Corey Richardson, who called Bledson “one of the greatest people I’ve ever been around.”
Flowery Branch Police, Gainesville Police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation are investigating the case. Flowery Branch Police Chief David Spillers said Friday “interviews and interrogations are still taking place” but he did not release any new information.
Sundays at the shop won’t be the same without Bledson, friend Harold Key said. Bledson brought people together by buying food for the community and opening up the drink machines, he said.
“When he spoke out loudly, it was to try and make a difference in everybody’s life that was around him,” Key said.
The news of Bledson’s death has been shocking and heartbreaking to the community, Riddles said, as Bledson was seen as a community advocate.
“From his generosity and love that he had, it made other people give the community, to help the children, to help the elderly, to ... uplift those that are low in spirit,” Riddles said.
For children of the community, his generosity would sometimes be seen in free haircuts or giving little rewards for good grades. Rodney Turner, Bledson’s uncle, said the Gainesville business owner was known to a slide a kid $10 for keeping up good work in school.
Turner said Bledson converted to Islam as a teenager, leading to a Muslim religious service and a Christian service after his death.
When describing Bledson, Turner said the man would “speak his mind, sometimes very loud, but with a kind heart.”
Being a black business owner who helped kids, Bledson’s memory will “spark other young black entrepreneurs to have dreams that they can do the same thing,” Riddles said.
The family is offering a $5,000 reward for anyone who can provide information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.
Standing in front of the barber shop Saturday, Bledson’s mother, Shirley Harbin, said there have been too many unsolved homicides.
“They need to pull together and get together and make one investigation and ... solve some of these crimes possibly, because these people walking on the street. They’re walking around free,” Harbin said of the various law enforcement agencies investigating.
Hundreds of yards from the barber shop, Phil Smith, 55, was killed in June 2015 at the Atlanta Street Apartments.
“Their family is still running around here hurting like I’m hurting,” Harbin said.
Anyone with information is asked to call Flowery Branch Police investigator Robin Kemp at 770-967-6336, the GBI tipline at 1-800-597-8477 or the Gainesville Police tipline at 770-533-5873.