Thomas Jefferson Byrd: Man arrested for shooting dead Tony-nominated actor near Atlanta home after altercation
30-year-old Antonio Demetrice Rhynes was taken into custody early Friday morning after a manhunt
Authorities announced on Friday that a suspect has been arrested in the fatal shooting of Thomas Jefferson Byrd, a well-known actor who was gunned down earlier this month. 70-year-old Byrd was a Tony Award-nominated stage actor and had starred in several movies by critically-acclaimed director Spike Lee. On October 3, authorities found him with several gunshot wounds in his back near his southwest Atlanta home, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Investigators left no stone unturned as they followed up on evidence and tips, eventually identifying the suspect in the case as 30-year-old Antonio Demetrice Rhynes. Atlanta police noted that warrants for his arrest were issued Wednesday and he was taken into custody early Friday morning at the Royal Oaks Apartments along North Camp Creek Parkway. Rhymes is set to be booked on the murder charge into the Fulton County Jail, per the report.
“The Atlanta Police Department is proud of the diligent efforts of the Homicide Unit to identify a suspect in this crime and the skilled and professional work done by the Fugitive Unit and SWAT Unit to take Mr. Rhynes into custody without incident,” the department said in a statement.
Authorities had previously announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the shooting, which reportedly stemmed from an altercation that took place near Byrd's home on Belvedere Avenue about 1:45 am Investigators later recovered spent rifle rounds near Byrd’s body.
Byrd was born in Griffin and went on to graduate from Morris Brown College. He later taught elementary school in Atlanta and soon took to acting on stage, TV, and film, and also performed in a number of shows led by Lee and director Kenny Leon. In fact, Byrd's nomination for the Tony Award for best-featured actor in a play came in 2003 after his acclaimed performance in August Wilson’s 'Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom' on Broadway.
A memorial service for the late actor was held Tuesday outside Hillside International Truth Center in Atlanta. The event was also live-streamed online for his fans.
Loved ones remembered the slain actor by his nickname T-Byrd. He is survived by his son, Thomas IV; five daughters, Aria, Carmen, Kalah, Shannon Byrd-Crossley, and Desaree Murden; five grandchildren; and his ex-wife, according to AJC.
“I realized that God’s gift to me was my dad and the way he loved me and the way that he made me feel — that I was the smartest, most capable, most beautiful person in the world,” an emotional Desaree said Tuesday. “I could do anything. I would say something trivial. And he would be like, ‘Girl, you are so smart.’”
Oscar-winner filmmaker Lee paid tribute to the late actor in an Instagram post after the October 3 incident.
Sharing a black and old picture of young Byrd, the 63-year-old Lee wrote: “I’m So Sad To Announce The Tragic Murder Of Our Beloved Brother Thomas Jefferson Byrd Last Night In Atlanta, Georgia. Tom Is My Guy, Here Below You See Him As The Frightening Character Errol Barnes In CLOCKERS. Brother Byrd Also Did His Thang In My Joints- CHI-RAQ, SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS, RED HOOK SUMMER, BAMBOOZLED, HE GOT GAME, GET ON THE BUS, GIRL 6 And CLOCKERS. May We All Wish Condolences And Blessings To His Family. Rest In Peace Brother Byrd.”
Elisabeth Omilami, a fellow actor and community activist, told WXIA-TV that Byrd was a “brilliant dancer, actor, and friend." “He was a special person whose personality filled up the whole room when he entered you knew he was there. He fought his way through this very racist and difficult Hollywood system and was able to maintain a career through it all,” she said.