By PRISCILLA LUNA and NAIA MITCHELL
Susana Morales was a bright, kind, and loving 16-year-old who loved her family and friends and had a talent for music. She loved to sing, play piano, and had begun teaching herself to play the guitar and the ukelele.
On Tuesday, July 26, 2022, after spending the day with her family, Susana decided to go to a friend’s house. She spent the evening there and texted her mom at 9:40 p.m. to let her know she was on her way home. She had walked the same nine-minute route many times before, but by 10 o’clock she still wasn’t home.
The next day, with no word from Susana, her family knew something was wrong.
Issues With the Police
Susana’s family pleaded with Gwinnett County Police to search for her, but officers told them that people weren’t considered missing until after 48 hours. In Susana’s case, the wait time would prove to be too long.
Throughout the entire investigation, Gwinnett County Police dismissed the family’s concerns, insisting that Susana was a runaway even though the family knew she would never do such a thing. How could she be a runaway if she had been on her way home?
The family took matters into their own hands and eventually contacted a neighbor who had a doorbell camera that caught Susana walking at 9:40 p.m. that night. The neighbor lived just a few houses down from the Moraleses’ home, showing that Susana was indeed headed there.
Six months went by with police failing to uncover any leads regarding Susana’s disappearance. At the beginning of 2022, they finally began asking her family for more details, requesting Susana’s dental record and and a DNA sample from her mother.
Then, on February 8, police announced that Susana’s remains had been discovered in the woods.
The story that Gwinnett County Police told the family was that a driver had pulled over on a nearby road to take a phone call and walked into the woods where they stumbled across Susana’s body. Five days later, on February 13, police arrested a suspect, a now former Doraville County Police officer, Miles Bryant. He’s been charged with felony murder and kidnapping.
The Suspect: A Police Officer
Bryant has a history of stalking, harassing, and being wildly inappropriate to women and girls. A proud police officer, he also worked security for the apartment complex where he lived—the same apartments where Susana’s friend lived, from which Susana began her short walk home on that fateful night in July.
Investigators collected a bedsheet from Bryant’s car and seized his car and his patrol car. Once Bryant was in custody, a woman came forward saying he had stalked and harassed her for a year, even kicking her door in. The police never did anything about her case but are now looking to reopen it following Bryant’s arrest for Susana’s murder.
Susana’s family is seeking justice not only from Bryant but from his former employer, the Doraville County Police Department, for knowingly hiring a man with a history of violence and for not taking accountability for the harm their officer committed against a young Latina and her family.
The Morales family deserves to know the truth and see that justice is done.
With the support of COMMUNITYx and Alquimia Global, an organization and human rights task force team actively supporting underrepresented populations and immigrant communities, Susana’s family as launched a campaign, Justice 4 Susana, and are hoping people who learn about Susana will support their continued pursuit of justice.
Their list of demands includes:
— A fair and transparent investigation from the Doraville County Police Department
— All charges filed against Bryant
— Conviction of Bryant for murder in the first degree
— Acknowledgment that Title 35 of the Georgia Code —which states that “no law enforcement agency shall implement a policy or practice which mandates a minimum waiting period before initiating a missing person report with such agency”— was violated when police told the Moraleses to wait 48 hours before reporting Susana missing
They are also seeking as much information as possible on the suspect, Miles Bryant, the only person who knows exactly what happened to Susana.
If you have a tip, please contact GCPD detectives at 770-513-5300. To remain anonymous, tipsters should contact Crime Stoppers Greater Atlanta at 404-577-TIPS (8477) or visit www.stopcrimeATL.com. You may also fill out this Google form with your tip. (Please note: We verify tips before passing them along to the detectives.)
Please stand with the Morales family by donating to their campaign for justice and sharing Susana’s story. This needs to be national news.
Priscilla Luna is a mother, homeschool educator, community organizer, and activist for human rights. She is a member of All Power Books, Alquimia Global, and vice president of the Human Rights Council at CommunityX. Twitter: @prsluna
Naia Mitchell is an impact manager for COMMUNITYx.