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Downtown Athens murder unsolved after four years

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

Daniel Macias

By Joe Johnson

Today makes four years since 28-year-old Athens resident Daniel Joseph Macias was gunned down on Aug.13, 2016 as he walked to his car that was parked on East Hancock Avenue behind the Athens-Clarke County Courthouse.

An arrest has yet to be made.

After finishing work as a server at Agua Linda Taqueria on Prince Avenue, as he regularly did, Daniel headed downtown, where he liked to mingle with friends and colleagues in the local hospitality trade.

In the ensuing years, not knowing who was responsible for his death has weighed heavily on his family.

“All I have to say is that I’ve prayed for someone, whether it’s the person responsible or someone they have told, to have a change of heart and please speak up,” said the victim’s sister, Erica Macias.

“Our family, especially our mom and dad, deserves answers so I’m just hoping that someone with a good heart, who has a brother, cousin or son that they love and care for so much, will come forward and help with the case,” she said. “I don’t want the city of Athens to forget my brother or what happened to him. This person is still out there and I strongly believe they are still in Athens.”

The Macias murder has baffled police, who said they continued to try to identify the person who would want to kill the large, extroverted man that family members and friends affectionately called a “gentle giant.”

Athens-Clarke County police last week would not answer specific questions from Classic City News about the case, such as whether detectives have identified possible suspects or a motive for the slaying.

Instead, the ACCPD’s Public Information Office released the following statement:

The Athens-Clarke County Police Department continues to investigate the murder of Daniel Macias. Investigators with the department’s Robbery/Homicide and Crime Analysis Units have put countless hours into the case. 

“‘There is nothing more tragic than the loss of a life,’ stated Christopher Nichols, captain of the Criminal Investigations Division. ‘Detectives, with the assistance of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Athens-Clarke County Coroner’s Office, continue to comb through various evidence and leads in an effort to bring Macias’ killer to justice. We urge anyone with information to contact the police department.’”

Erica Macias said that the police had not kept in regular touch with her family, until her sister-in-law, Christy Rohmer Burrows, recently called to inquire about the status of the investigation.

The first couple years after the first year were tough because it was nearly impossible to even get in touch with them when we tried. It’s frustrating but we eventually put it in God's hands. As of lately, the current detective did reach back out to Christy and let her know he still works the case and will work it until it’s solved,” Erica said.

Erica Macias visiting her brother's grave

Daniel was born in South Carolina, but grew up in Alpharetta. In 2007 he enrolled at the University of Georgia, where he majored in business management.

Daniel completed four years at UGA, but was not a student when he was killed. Family members said Daniel fell in love with Athens and decided to remain in town.

At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Erica called her brother a “gentle giant” who had a booming laugh, contagious smile and wonderful sense of humor that made him well known and liked in the downtown Athens nightlife scene.

“He was the person who would turn someone’s bad day into a positive one just with his energy and encouragement,” she said.

One of Daniel’s friends was Erin Lahey, who got to know him when they worked together as servers at Rafferty’s on Huntington Road.

“While I didn't know him for a long time, he was someone who didn't make anyone feel like a stranger when you met him,” Lahey said. “He always had a smile on his face and you could tell it was important to him for others to also smile and feel happy. He was always joking and laughing to help others have a better day. I always loved working with him because we would have a playful competition with each other in our positions which made me not even feel like I was working.”

On the morning of Aug. 13, 2006, Lahey said she heard that there had been a murder downtown and was shocked upon learning who the victim was.

I could not make sense of how on earth he could have been the person murdered as everyone I knew loved Daniel,” she said. “I was devastated as one of the good ones was taken from us and in such a brazen way.

“I immediately wanted to know what I could do to help find who did this as I wanted to be there to watch this murderer get justice,” Lahey said. “I wanted it out of my own anger, but also for his family and lifelong friends that I had the fortune to get to know through the process of building and maintaining a memorial where Daniel was killed outside of the courthouse.

A memorial at the location where Daniel Macias was fatally shot

On the night that he was killed, Rohmer Burrows said her brother-in-law went downtown after work, but not straightaway.

“After working at the restaurant that night, he went to the store across the street and bought beer and then got a phone call from someone and put his beer down and left,” she said. “I don’t think he had plans to go downtown but whomever called him on the phone asked him to meet them so he planned to meet someone downtown.

“We think that person was his friend Shawn,” Rohmer Burrows said. “Shawn ended up not meeting him downtown because he had a headlight out. Shawn was the friend he was on the phone with for seven minutes right before he was murdered. The phone disconnected with Shawn at the same time we assume he met his killer on the corner.”

According to Rohmer Burrows, a c0-worker at Agua Linda had noticed that Daniel had been stressed and worried about money.

"She was around him a lot at work," she said."She said he acted like he owed someone money."

From downtown surveillance camera video evidence, investigators know that Daniel was outside the 9d’s Bar on East Clayton Street as it was closing at 2:25 a.m. 

He was killed 10 minutes later near the intersection of North Jackson Street and East Hancock Avenue, right outside of the sally port for vehicles that transport prisoners to the Athens-Clarke County Courthouse. He was shot on the sidewalk and collapsed in a bed of landscaping mulch.

In the immediate aftermath of the murder police released surveillance video camera footage that shows an apparent white male dressed in dark clothing walking on the south sidewalk of East Hancock Avenue toward the direction of the crime scene.

If the person is not the killer, police said there is a good chance he saw Macias and the killer immediately before or at the time of the murder.

The last time someone was murdered downtown was 13 years earlier, when 18-year-old Tennessee resident James Phillip Cole was gunned down outside the Insomnia nightclub on East Broad Street in November 2003.

Cole’s murder was the impetus for measures designed to improve safety downtown that included creation of a no-cruising zone in the bar area and the installation of a network of surveillance cameras that are monitored at the county’s 911/Communications Center.

Unfortunately, police said the location where Macias was shot was not covered by either the camera system or courthouse security cameras.

Police do not believe Macias was randomly killed; he was shot five times, which suggests a personal motive.

“Typically, when it’s a robbery the suspect might shoot the victim once or twice, but Mr. Macias was shot multiple times, indicating the motive might have been more personal,” Deputy Police Chief Jerry Saulters said soon after the murder. At the time, Saulters was commanding officer of the police department’s Criminal Investigations Division.

The killer was possibly familiar with Macias’s car and was lying in wait for him where the vehicle was parked, the police official said.

This Saturday, when friends and family members meet this Saturday at the location where Daniel died, for prayer and reflection and possibly to release some balloons, Rohmer Burrow said they are expected to be joined by the lead detective on the murder case, Sean McCauley.

“We invited him to be there, and he said he would love to be there,” she said.

Daniel Macias in the last photo taken of him with his father, Russ

The Macias family is offering a $10,000 reward for information that helps police identify the killer. That is in addition to a Crime Stoppers reward of $1,000.

Anyone with information concerning Macias’ death should contact Detective McCauley at 762-400-7061 or

Anonymous calls can be made to the Crime Stoppers Tip confidential tip line at 706-705-4775.

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