A beloved Commerce man was shot and killed outside a downtown restaurant on Sunday morning. A suspect was arrested Sunday night.
Calvin Varnum, 72, was gunned down Sunday morning outside of Hardee’s in downtown Commerce on May 21, around 7:30 a.m.
Varnum could be seen most days standing on the sidewalk near Hardee’s with his walking stick, smiling and waving at passersby. He was also a regular at Huck’s restaurant and could often be seen walking up Homer Road.
Social media has been flooded with comments from people about their friendly encounters with Varnum.
A vigil was held Sunday night with hundreds of people stopping to wave at passing vehicles, just as Varnum did on countless mornings.
“I live on the next block over and Mr. Calvin every morning he was out here waving an so we knew if he was out waving, it was going to be a good day,” said vigil event organizer Claire Kiltoyne.
Skate A-Rama in Commerce announced that it would offer a $500 reward for information about the suspect. That reward grew to over $12,000 within hours due to donations from area businesses and residents.
Now that a suspect is in custody, Skate A-Rama has paused pledges for the reward, but is encouraging donations for Varnum’s funeral. To make a donation, visit skatearama.com.
Varnum was standing outside of Hardee’s when he was shot multiple times. According to the Commerce Police Department, a Good Samaritan was able to resuscitate Varnum on the scene. He was transported to Northeast Georgia Medical Center, where he died a short time later.
Varnum and the suspect, Xavier Clark, 23, of Commerce, reportedly had a conversation prior to the shooting. But Commerce Police Chief Ken Harmon said the two didn’t have an argument or an altercation. Harmon said that, while they know the details of the shooting, there’s likely not going to be a clear understanding of exactly what Clark’s motive was.
Harmon added that it seemed like Clark targeted Varnum and killed him, with no real motive behind the shooting it. He noted that the apparent lack of a motive will be hard for the community to come to terms with.
Clark reportedly shot his firearm toward Varnum and the Hardee’s restaurant until the firearm was empty, then dropped the firearm and fled the scene in a family member’s Dodge Journey.
Authorities put a call out, seeking the public’s help in locating the vehicle. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office received information on Clark's whereabouts and found him traveling north on Hwy. 441 around 11 p.m. They pulled him over near Berea Road and he was arrested.
Commerce police transported Clark to the Jackson County Jail, where he’s currently being housed. The CPD and Georgia Bureau of Investigation completed their investigation and charged Clark with felony murder, malice murder, aggravated assault; two counts of cruelty to children (2nd degree); and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon or felony first offender.
He faces the charges of aggravated assault and cruelty to children due to him shooting at the restaurant. Hardee’s is a busy eatery in the downtown community. Employees and patrons — including two children — were inside the establishment when Clark allegedly shot toward the side of the building. The restaurant had multiple bullet holes on one of its walls, including two into a window.
Clark is also charged with felony theft by taking for taking the family member’s vehicle.
Clark had been arrested in Jackson County multiple times before.
The first was in 2020, when Clark allegedly assaulted a man with an object, causing a laceration to the man’s head. He was charged with aggravated assault and battery, but the case was dismissed after he pled to another charge.
He was arrested again in 2021 for aggravated assault, disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, simple assault, criminal trespass-family violence, simple battery and simple battery against a law enforcement officer after a domestic incident. He also reportedly violently charged the person of a detention officer. In that case, Clark pled guilty under first offender status for three of the charges.
Most recently, he was arrested in 2022 on three counts of terroristic threats and one count of simple battery in another domestic incident. He pled guilty to the four counts.
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