Friend says murder victim was caring, supportive

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt December 11, 2014
A picture of Pearce, far right, with her friends Joanna and Christa. Photo obtained via Facebook

A picture of Pearce, far right, with her friends Joanna and Christa. Photo obtained via Facebook

This story has been updated. 

Karen Pearce lived alone in her Smyrna apartment with her cat, Harry.

Her friend Joanna Hooten said the stylist was mostly homebody who moved to Atlanta from North Carolina more than a decade ago looking for a fresh start. Hooten, Pearce and their friend Christa met at Leon’s on Dec. 6. They had all worked as stylists in the Van Michael Salon and stayed friends. Hooten lives in East Lake, and Christa lives in Alabama. They routinely got together for girls’ night and Decatur was a frequent destination.

Pearce left early. Hooten and her friend saw the police cars and asked what was going on. A server said someone heard a gunshot. Their biggest concern at the time was how to get their cars out of the parking deck near One Decatur Town Center. The idea that their quiet, sweet friend was a murder victim never crossed their minds.

“That’s the thing,” Hooten said. “We would’ve never thought twice about Karen leaving by herself. We always did that.”

She called Pearce the next morning to see if she’d seen anything, but Pearce didn’t answer.

Hooten said she didn’t know anything had happened to her friend until police investigators arrived at her house to interview her. Police are still looking for leads in the case. They’ve confirmed Pearce died of a gunshot wound but have said little else about the circumstances surrounding her death.

Pearce’s parents told WITN in North Carolina that their daughter died as the result of a “bad robbery.” Decatur Police Sgt. Jennifer Ross said details of the case haven’t been released to anyone.

Hooten said police didn’t give her any indication whether it was a robbery or something more sinister.

“We told them every person she’d ever had an argument with, every man that’s ever been involved in her life,” Hooten said. “They’re trying to go through every option.”

Pearce didn’t have a big circle of friends, Hooten said. She loved animals and looked after Hooten’s when she was away.

“The ones she had she held very dear and close to her heart,” Hooten said. “She was very involved, supportive, great at giving advice.”

Hooten said she believes police are making progress in their investigation.

“They had nothing to go off of at the beginning,” she said. “I know since then they have discovered a few leads but they can’t talk about it.”

Police are still asking for the public’s help solving this crime. They are asking anyone with information to contact the Decatur Police Department at 404/373-6551 or Crimestoppers at 404/577-TIPS or online at http://www.

A reward fund has also been established in the hopes that it will yield some new leads in the case.

Hooten said she and her friend Christa are hanging in there. They’re just baffled by the crime as everyone else.

“Karen didn’t have enemies,” Hooten said. “It seems so far-fetched to me that somebody was targeting her specifically.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled a name. This story has been updated with the correct spelling.  

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  • chris

    Thanks for your persistent reporting on this story, Dan. Many residents are on edge and eager for information. I appreciate your hard work.

    • Thank you. These are tough stories to do, but necessary.

  • Bill Jones

    Thank you Dan for this report. It’s refreshing to see that someone is trying to get information instead of just re-publishing the police emails. I walked by that area since it happened and I was shocked at how close it is to the square. There is a cut through right across from Starbucks. I didn’t see any security cameras on the Town Center Building, the parking deck or the adjacent structures. Do you know if the city has any network of security cameras installed around town?

    • I don’t know off hand, but I can ask.

      • JV

        I rent an office at DTC. There are apparently no security cameras other than those that individual tenants might have on their offices. We’ve asked for them for years and I’ll bet we’ll get them now.

  • Brie P.

    I’m curious why they aren’t revealing if there is video surveillance? As a frequent visitor to downtown decatur, and I park in the same deck most of the time, I’ve noticed it is posted on most all parking areas and decks that they have 24 hour surveillance. Now, if there’s an actual running tape, that’s another question.
    And thank you for covering this with many updates. As a single woman living in the area, it is top of mind this week, and will remain until there are answers.

  • Katherine

    I am also a single woman who lives in the Decatur area and who is quite concerned to know that this horrendous crime took the life of a good woman who, based on what I’ve read, was a wonderful friend, daughter, aunt and coworker. I am so sorry for the unfathomable pain that her friends and family are going through. Dan, I so appreciate your tenacity in covering this case.

    I have often heard people talk about Decatur as a “Mayberry” in the metro Atlanta area. Decatur is a wonderful community, but I hope that Decatur residents and those folks from nearby communities who frequent the shops and restaurants in downtown Decatur fully appreciate how vigilant they need to be, especially women. It is a sad, maddening reality to know that law-abiding people are at risk of serious injury or death at the hands of violent criminals prowling the streets of our community.

    As I sit here typing this, I have watched a story on the tv news about the two Georgia Tech students recently groped/assaulted by a criminal lurking on their campus. This was followed by another story about two women who were sexually assaulted while waiting at a bus stop at 6am in Norcross. I feel compelled to express the price I pay for always having to be vigilant, always having to be on guard. I am ALWAYS looking around to make sure no one sneaks up on me when, for instance, I am putting my trash out at the curb at night, or walking to my mailbox when I get home from work, or walking into the parking deck at the end of the work day, or getting into my car in a Publix or Kroger parking lot at night. I bristle at the notion (while simultaneously taking precautions and ALWAYS being vigilant) that this is what it has come to in our world.

    As someone who lived in the City of Decatur and had my house broken into twice within a few years’ time, I must say that I was very “underwhelmed” with the police’s response. At that time, I asked a Decatur police supervisor whether the Decatur police had thought about implementing more foot patrols and felt like I was very much blown off. Sure, it’s good to see a cop or two milling about during all the great events that Decatur hosts (whether the Book Festival or many others), but the reality is that a much, much more VISIBLE police presence is something that, while it won’t prevent every crime, will help to send the message to the violent criminals in our midst that the City of Decatur Police are not going to tolerate this mayhem.

    I am firmly convinced that more (any??) foot patrols would help not only to prevent crime but to let the residents and patrons in Decatur know that the police care and that they are doing everything possible to stem the tide of all this violent crime. Before anyone raises the issue, I will (preemptively) agree that that there are costs associated with all city services, including policing. I am not proposing a huge tax hike for City of Decatur residents to pay for more police; rather, I am asking that the Decatur Police acknowledge that what they are doing (i.e., predominantly cruising through town in their patrol cars) is NOT enough to protect Decatur’s citizens and visitors.

    When a grandmother is walking along East Ponce, holding her young grandchild in her arms, and is the victim of a robbery by force–in BROAD DAYLIGHT–and another woman is gunned down not even two weeks later when leaving Leon’s restaurant, there is a big, big problem. I encourage all City of Decatur residents to contact Police Chief Booker and the members of the city commission to express their deep, and well-founded concerns about this violent crime in Decatur. Accountability is key. Yes, we citizens need to remain vigilant, if not hyper vigilant, but we also need the police to step up their game in terms of their patrol techniques. The status quo is failing us all, and we remain silent at our own peril. Time to hold your police force and your elected officials more accountable, good people of Decatur. I don’t want anyone else’s life to end the way Karen Pearce’s did. I have GOT to remain hopeful that things can improve, for all our sakes, but it is going to take some work, especially by the police, whose job it is to protect and serve.

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