An Atlanta man was arrested this week in connection with the fatal shooting of Thomas Jefferson Byrd, an actor best known for his roles in several Spike Lee films. The 70-year-old Byrd was shot several times in the back on Oct. 3, near his home, police said. Byrd, a Tony Award-nominated actor, appeared in Lee's Clockers, Get on the Bus, Bamboozled, Red Hook Summer, and Chi-Raq.
Investigators identified Antonio Demetrice Rhynes, 30, as a suspect in Byrd's death, based on evidence and tips, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. An arrest warrant was issued on Wednesday and he was taken into custody Friday at the Royal Oaks Apartments, police said. Rhynes was booked at Fulton County Jail, police said. The suspect has been arrested in the past, according to online records. He has previously faced charges of armed robbery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, hijacking a motor vehicle, and burglary.
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Byrd was shot in the back following an argument near his home on Belvedere Avenue around 1:45 a.m., police said. They found spent rifle rounds near the actor's body, police said. His daughter, Shannon Byrd-Crossley, told the Journal-Constitution she did not know Rhynes. "Any progress that is made, we are thankful for it," she told the outlet. "I do feel great relief. But at the same time, it doesn’t bring him back."
Byrd was born in Griffin, Georgia, and earned a Bachelor of Science in education from Morris Brown College before he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the California Institute of the Arts. In 2003, he received a Tony nomination for best featured actor for his performance in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. He is survived by his son, five daughters, five grandchildren, and his ex-wife. A memorial service was held on Tuesday at Hillside International Truth Center in Atlanta.
"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," Byrd's daughter Desaree Murden said during the memorial. "I could do anything. I would say something trivial. And he would be like, ‘Girl, you are so smart.'"
Since Byrd's death, Lee has also shared several tributes on his Instagram page. He also launched a GoFundMe account to raise funds for Byrd's family. More than $100,000 has been raised. "His God-Given Gift Was Portraying The Complexities Of Human Beings," Lee wrote this week. "Trust, Dat Is Not An Easy Thing To Do, But What’s Easy? I’m A Better Person Because Of Our Friendship. You Might Ask—How So? One Word: 'Empathy.' Plain And Simple."