Debra Plaster of Demorest said folks in Habersham County aren’t used to the kind of local news they heard a week ago when a pizza restaurant employee was shot during an armed robbery in the small town of Cornelia.
“It was kind of unexpected and disturbing,” said Plaster, as she waited in her car for her husband outside the Little Caesars Pizza in a strip mall off U.S. 441 North. “Most shootings you hear about around here are domestic-related. This is different, because it was a robbery.”
Indeed, in the history of Cornelia, there have been few incidents like the one that occurred on the night of July 22, when restaurant employee Kathy Hamilton was robbed and shot in the head outside a rear door of the restaurant. The masked assailant remains at large. Hamilton is expected to recover, officials said.
“This is the first time I can remember anything like this happening,” said Cornelia City Councilman Tony Cook, who has lived in the town all of his 55 years. “There have been robberies but none I can remember where anyone got shot. It’s definitely been a shock.”
Kathryn Oldham, a corporate spokesperson for Detroit-based Little Caesars, said the company was aware of the shooting.
“Our franchisees take the safety of their employees and customers very seriously,” Oldham said. “Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the franchisee’s employee and her family.”
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Mike Ayers said state and local authorities continue to work extensively on the case.
Investigators have focused on surveillance camera recordings made outside nearby Walmart and Lowe’s stores.
The Lowe’s video shows a dark-colored Pontiac Firebird with tinted windows and a scoop on the back parked in the Lowe’s parking lot. The car, a 1993 to 2002 model, had a blue and white drive-out tag with the letter “A” on it.
Ayers said the suspect is thought to be a white or Hispanic male in his 20s, with dark hair, clean shaven, 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 9 inches, and weighing between 190 and 200 pounds. About 10 minutes after the robbery and shooting occurred, witnesses at Lowe’s saw the man running back to his car, according to investigators. The witnesses told investigators it appeared he was sweating and that he quickly drove from the parking lot.
Witnesses told police the man was wearing a black, long-sleeve shirt, dark pants, and had a red Jansport backpack. The description provided by witnesses at Lowe’s matches the description of the man who committed the armed robbery at Little Caesar’s, Ayers said.
Ayers acknowledged that shootings in Cornelia are uncommon, but added, “This kind of crime can occur anywhere in any town.”
“It’s certainly not as prevalent as it would be in Atlanta, but it can happen anywhere,” Ayers said.
Plaster said she believed it was “only a matter of time” before big-city crime found its way to small-town Habersham County.
“It’s because of the growth in Atlanta,” she said. “It’s spreading its way up here.”
Cook has a hunch that a local resident committed the crime.
“It’s a small town, and I’m thinking no one would come out of town at that time of evening and do that kind of crime,” Cook said.
“I hope not, anyway.”