Sympathetic people from around the country have contributed more money to help solve the cases of 22 murdered and missing black children here than local officials can immediately use in the investigation, and the officials now hope to use much of the money to augment summer jobs and recreational programs for youth.
The move to expand the programs, many of which were slated for cutbacks this year, stems from the official's fear that summer will bring an increase in the number of unsupervised youth on the city's streets. Most of the missing and murdered children were apparently alone when they were abducted.
But it also represents a new, soul-searching focus on the problems of youth in this traumatized city. "Sometimes tragedies of this kind bring us back to fairly elemental things" like family and neighborhood, said Angelo Fuster, a spokesman for Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson.
Now that the city has received a guarantee of $1.5 million from the federal government to continue its intensive investigation of the slayings, officials say, the contributions -- ranging from a $41,000 gift from a Columbus, Ohio, group to an $88.47 donation from a convicted murderer in Texas -- are no longer needed to finance the police effort.
But the money continues to arrive. Fuster said that as of last week the city had received more than $400,000, and added that because of time-consuming accounting procedures only about $20,000 had been spent.
He said that while the city has a "moral and ethical responsibility" to apply specifically earmarked funds to the search for the killers of the children, funds with no such strings attached would go toward offsetting planned cutbacks in summer programs.
The city had planned, for example, to shorten the season at municipal swimming pools, but now hopes to be able to operate them until the school year begins in the fall. The city had also planned to reduce the number of playground supervisors, but now hopes to have a full complement.
In addition, Fuster said, the independent agency that runs the city's public housing had planned to close all of its on-site recreation centers because there was no money to pay staff. Now, the city hopes to use some of the donated money to pay supervisors so the centers can remain open.
Only about 3,500 summer jobs were expected to be available this summer for Atlanta youth, Fuster said, compared to 9,000 in previous years. Again, officials hope to be able to apply some of the donated money to expand the jobs program -- which was funded primarily by the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act cut by the Reagan administration -- and also hope to secure more jobs from the private sector.
The officials say they are mindful of a recent experiment by undercover police that demonstrated that a $10 bill was all it took to entice many low-income youth to enter a car with a stranger.
Most of the murdered and missing children, who all came from low-income families, shared a disturbing characteristic: they were apparently alone and unsupervised when they disappeared.
Atlanta officials and residents have begun to ask why so many of the city's children are alone, and as a result, the killings have sparked a new emphasis on family and neighborhood.
"I honestly feel that the institution of the family may be strengthened," said Arthur Langford, a city councilman. "There is a sharing and a caring that I haven't seen in a long time."