FORT VALLEY — Daniel Drive is a nice, peaceful part of Fort Valley, populated mostly with retirees and grandparents.
But a day after a double homicide that claimed the lives of an 85-year-old Fort Valley woman and her 65-year-old daughter — apparently at the hands of a family member — that sense of serenity has been shattered.
“This is the worst tragedy in Fort Valley I’ve ever seen,” said S.B. McGhee, a neighbor to Lillian Graves and her daughter Agnes Stewart.
The two women were killed Friday morning in their home. GBI agents, working with the Peach County Sheriff’s Office, arrested 54-year-old Lillian Walker of Montezuma on Friday night and charged her with two counts of murder. Further charges may be pending, officials said.
Walker, who was Graves’ niece, was named after her, several friends and neighbors said.
Agent Craig Rotter of the GBI said the motive appears to have been robbery. Agents arrested Walker based on a combination of physical evidence and inconsistencies Walker gave in her statement to authorities.
“We got some good physical evidence,” Rotter said. “There were inconsistencies in the stories she was using in her alibis. We were able to disprove those alibis.”
Rotter said Walker has a prior criminal history, including charges of forgery.
The news that a family member was arrested in the crime has shaken Fort Valley even more, because both Graves and Stewart had generated a lot of respect around the community, said the Rev. Bertram Smith, senior pastor at St. Peter AME Church, where both women were lifelong members.
“Everybody in this church is part of a family,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a very traumatic service (this morning). We expect it’s going to be a large, large funeral.”
Smith said both women had touched a lot of lives. Graves had just turned 85 on Monday, he said, and her family and friends were in the process of planning a big celebration that was supposed to take place this Saturday. She had been a member of the church for 50 years.
Stewart, who taught the youth at the church, was a minister and was ordained as a deacon in the AME church last month, Smith said. She had been a member of the Macon AME conference and was working on her Master’s of Divinity degree at Beacon University, he said. She also had served as a president for the local Habitat for Humanity.
Several people said education was important to Stewart, who had been a teacher in both the Peach County and Crawford County school systems.
Joyce Thompson, who lives up the street from Graves’ house, said she was a sorority sister of Stewart’s at Fort Valley State College and that her nieces took classes from Stewart at Peach County High School.
“She was a very quiet person, very friendly,” Thompson said. “I understand she was an excellent teacher.”
Thompson added that Graves was also very friendly and would always get her tickets to Fort Valley State University’s football games.
“She always had a smile on her face,” Thompson said. “She always had something good to say about people.”
Thompson said she was at the local senior center Friday when news of the crime spread quickly.
“It was very sad,” she said. “The tears came. We couldn’t believe it. This hits so close to home.”
“They were peaceful folks,” said McGhee, whose wife was unable to sleep last night because of the news. “They got along with most everybody. You can’t find anyone who will say a bad thing about them. They were Christian folks.”
Graves and Stewart were found by Stewart’s grandson, Devin Randall, Smith said. Five years ago, Stewart’s daughter died and it was Randall who found her, he said.
“He found his mother dead, and now he found his grandmother and great-grandmother dead,” Smith said.
Funeral arrangements weren’t complete as of Saturday afternoon, he said. Smith said he spent a good portion of the weekend with family members.
“They are devastated,” he said. “This is beyond words, beyond words. The whole community is devastated. ... They were very loving people. Everybody in the community respected them.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.