HOW TO HELP
A family member has started a fundraising campaign to pay for Lakita Hicks’ funeral. Any extra funds raised will be used to create a scholarship fund for her son. To donate, visit: https://www.gofundme.com/5smjzbp8
CALL IN A TIP
Anyone with information on this case is asked to call 423-698-2525.
Source: Chattanooga Police Department
In the photograph, Lakita Hicks' 5-year-old son poses in patriotic swimming trunks, ankle-deep in a flowing fountain beside the Tennessee Aquarium, both arms stretched wide, muscles flexed, tough.
He stands tall, chest out, and the commenters joke that he's all grown up.
"Yes he is 2 grown!" Hicks wrote beside the Facebook photo. "My lil prince!"
But on Sunday, the boy had to go through something few people ever face — he witnessed the violent deaths of his parents, who were shot and killed in their home at 2106 E. 13th St. around 10:30 p.m.
The boy called 911 and told the operator his mother and father had been shot.
"Our one and only eyewitness that we know of is that small child," Chattanooga police Chief Fred Fletcher said Monday.
The boy's mother, Hicks, 25, and George Dillard, 24, were both dead when officers arrived. The boy, who will not be identified by the Times Free Press because he is a minor, was not attacked. It was unclear Monday whether Dillard was the boy's biological father, but friends said he was raising the boy.
Fletcher said the boy's 911 call was crucial to getting police to the home quickly, and the boy was "extremely helpful."
"The officers who observed what this small child did are heartbroken by it," Fletcher said. "They are absolutely determined to find the person or persons who did this to that child and that child's family."
Dillard was a validated gang member, but Fletcher said it's unclear whether the double slaying was motivated by a particular gang fight. He declined to say which gang Dillard was a part of, but Times Free Press records show he was a member of the 52 Bloodstone Villains.
Dillard's criminal record in Hamilton County includes a smattering of minor charges, including traffic offenses, disorderly conduct and evading arrest. He was charged with assault in 2011 and was last arrested in December 2015 for driving on a revoked license.
Fletcher said police are checking into whether Hicks' and Dillard's deaths are related to the death of Thomas Simmons, 20, who was shot and killed while walking on Sheridan Avenue on Jan. 25.
"We have great concern that it is," Fletcher said. "But we have no reason to know that."
Simmons was the first person killed in Chattanooga in 2016. Just seven days later, Dillard and Hicks are the second and third.
Fletcher would not say Monday whether there was any sign of forced entry at the home on East 13th Street, which victim was shot first, whether investigators believe the victims knew their attacker or attackers, or how many times each person was shot. He said police were looking for "one or more suspects."
A pool of blood soaked a rug just inside the back door of the house Monday morning. The building is divided into two apartments with a common hallway and small foyer at the back door. It appeared Monday that at least one person was shot in the back foyer, just inside the door.
Fletcher said police found a significant amount of evidence inside the apartment and that investigators are following multiple leads in the case.
Hicks' and Dillard's landlord, Truman Anderson, said the pair had lived in the apartment for about two years.
A neighbor said Hicks and Dillard often had company at their apartment, but that Hicks had always been a good neighbor. She said they usually kept their doors locked.
"She seemed to be nice, not a real rowdy person," neighbor Coretha Higgins said. Her grandson used to play with Hicks' son, she said.
Many local residents took to social media to mourn Hicks and Dillard as news of their deaths spread. Dozens of people posted memories or condolences on Hicks' and Dillards' Facebook pages.
Dillard's cousin, Mi'kayla Caslin, said the pair will be greatly missed.
"They both were loving, kind, hard-working mother and daddy," she said. "We grew up not having everything, but he made sure his son had it all. He always made the way for them."
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or firstname.lastname@example.org with tips or story ideas. Follow @ShellyBradbury.
What we know
* Five-year-old boy called 911 at 10:32 p.m. on Sunday to report both parents had been shot.
* The boy is unharmed and city agencies are working to take care of his needs.
* The slain adults were in their mid-twenties.
* The dead male was a validated gang member
* Police investigated the deaths overnight.
* Police do not know whether the slaying was motivated by a gang fight.
* No suspect has been identified.