Branden Canoles brought his new next-door neighbors a basket of bright pink flowers Wednesday afternoon, while Jean-Joseph and Angelica Kalonji, professional bakers, returned the favor with an alternating cheese and white cake display.
The idyllic meeting at the Kalonjis recently purchased home on Lower River Road in Newton County was a far cry from the first time the two families met two weeks ago, when Branden and his father Robert mistook the Kalonjis for late-night burglars and held them at the point of their automatic rifles in an effort to prevent them from breaking into the vacant house next door.
The Kalonjis were arrested that night because they didn't have with them the closing papers for their house, but when it was discovered the couple had been wrongly accused and arrested the story went viral and four days later the Canoles wound up in jail on charges of aggravated assault, criminal trespass and false imprisonment.
The unusual press conference held Wednesday was an attempt to bridge a gap and mend hurt feelings between two families that hope to be living side by side for years to come.
The Canoles apologized and the Kalonjis forgave.
"We'd like to offer amends. We're sorry. I hope we can be good neighbors for a long time," Robert told Jean-Joseph as the two embraced in a hug. "Everything will work out fine and we can fish together."
"Oh yeah," Jean-Joseph said. "I love fishing and we can go there and even spend the night."
"We got tents," Robert replied.
Family members hugged each other in turn and shared a few words.
"I love you like my son," Angelica told 18-year-old Branden.When asked if she accepted the Canoles apology, Angelica said, "Yes, I accept with all my heart. We are ready to be the best neighbors now and forever."
When asked what he wanted, Jean-Joseph said "Peace and good life between us. That's it."
Charges are still pending against the Canoles, and their Conyers-based defense attorney, David LaMalva, said he expected the case to take a couple of months to run the usual resolution course but was happy that the emotional side was solved much more quickly.
"It's absolutely unheard of. A wonderful opportunity," said LaMalva, referring to the press conference. "We still have pending charges, we understand that. But it's a wonderful opportunity a way to quickly let everyone know what our feelings our. And we're happy to have the Kalonjis return the same emotion."
Sheriff's office investigation
As for the Newton County sheriff's deputies who arrested the Kalonjis April 19, the internal investigation into their actions has been finished, but will not be released until next Wednesday, 10 days after the investigation's completion, when it will be available under the Open Records Act, according to Lt. Keith Crum with internal affairs.
He said Thursday he had completed his internal investigation and sent it to the captain in charge of the uniform patrol division, Capt. Morris Jones, who will determine what action to take. If the deputies disagree with the ruling, they can then appeal to the deputy chief and eventually to the sheriff, Crum said.
Kalonjis look forward to living rural life
The Kalonjis, including their son Bruno, planned to move into the house Thursday and begin the next stage of their life in a more rural setting. The house was largely empty Wednesday and the new lock for the front door had yet to be installed.
Bruno said Wednesday he was looking for a property with large acreage so the family could raise chickens and goats and grow vegetables, and when he came across the a HUD-owned house that sat on 11.67 acres on Lower River Road he put in a good bid.
He said it was important to him that the two families had a chance to resolve their differences and he said he wasn't planning to take any civil action against the Canoles. And while the two families had their share of adversity lately, Bruno said it's nothing compared to his family's past. Jean-Joseph was from Zaire, while Angelica was from Romania.
"Regardless of the situation, we would have lived here. We went through a lot of tough stuff in Africa, bullets flying over our heads all the time, and police coming to the door and you don't know if they will enter or not," he said. "So we've lived in situations worse than this in the past.
"But we're making peace and it's all for the best."