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The Tampa native was found with a gunshot wound to the head Sunday morning.
By ABBIE VANSICKLE, Times Staff Writer
Published January 22, 2008
[Coleman family photo]
TAMPA - As a black elementary teacher in one of Atlanta's low-income public schools, Antonio Coleman felt a special responsibility.
The 36-year-old Tampa native and father of three made learning an adventure for his students, whether the subject was slavery or hallway manners or Judy Blume novels. He spoke publicly of his belief that he must set a positive example.
He inspired so many that Atlanta Public Schools named him 2004 elementary teacher of the year.
About 8 a.m. Sunday, investigators found Coleman fatally shot in the head in a Toyota near the Groovy Mule bottle club on Dale Mabry Highway, said sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway.
"He may have been in his car, an innocent bystander," Callaway said.
He couldn't say whether Coleman was shot at 8 a.m. or merely found at that hour.
He said investigators don't know much yet. All they have said so far is that witnesses reported seeing a silver or light-colored Dodge or Chrysler van at the scene.
Coleman's wife, Sesily Coleman, flew to Tampa on Monday after she learned of his death.
"He was just the greatest husband and the greatest dad in the world, and I think he was one of the most outstanding educators you could possibly meet," said Mrs. Coleman, 33, a school computer lab specialist.
Coleman, who lived just outside Atlanta in Riverdale, Ga., had flown to Florida for an educational conference.
Less than a month ago, he took a new job to train other teachers for Promethean, a company that provides technological equipment for classrooms, and the conference was part of his new position, his wife said.
It wasn't a smooth trip. His flight was canceled several times because of bad weather.
"He kept saying he didn't want to go," she said.
He sent her a text message that he had arrived safely.
The conference was in Orlando, but he came to Tampa because his mother and siblings live here, his wife said.
"Any opportunity he had to see his family in Tampa, he did," she said.
On Saturday night, he and his brother planned to go to a sports bar to watch a televised boxing match, the fight between Roy Jones Jr. and Felix Trinidad, said Coleman's father-in-law, Leroy Hughes, 61, of New Orleans.
Coleman was waiting for his brother in a parking lot near the club when a barroom brawl spilled out into the parking lot, Hughes said investigators told the family. Someone opened fire in the parking lot. Callaway said investigators are trying to determine the time of the shooting.
"Some boy started shooting rapidly," Hughes said. "He got hit in the back of the head. He was hit by a stray bullet. That's what we heard from the police last night."
The after hours club was closed Monday. It's a dimly lit, windowless building south of Waters Avenue, marked with a plastic temporary banner.
Coleman has no arrest record, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. In 2000, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor worthless check charge, court records show.
He grew up in Tampa and attended college in Florida, where he started his teaching career, Hughes said.
Coleman had found his calling.
"His passion was the kids," his wife said.
Coleman said that as a black man, he had a responsibility to provide a positive role model for black, lower-income students.
In a July interview with National Public Radio, he explained his feelings:
"It's critical because in many situations and in many instances the children have no models whatsoever in their life in the form of a male, and so when they come to school, you represent for children a dad or a big brother or an uncle. ... It is a critical component of a child's development that they have teachers that they can relate to and that they know are there for them and have a vested interest in their success."
Black men make up a small percentage of elementary school teachers - less than 2 percent in both Hillsborough County and Florida, according to 2005 data.
Nationwide, the percentage of black, male teachers is 2.4 percent, according to the National Education Association in 2007.
The Colemans have two children together: a daughter, 9, and a son, 5. Coleman also has an 11-year-old daughter who lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
He and his wife met nearly a decade ago, on a trip to the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. They have been married eight years.
"We connected immediately, immediately," Mrs. Coleman said. "He was my best friend."
He taught at Burgess and Parkside elementary schools in Atlanta. School officials could not be reached Monday because of the holiday.
Mrs. Coleman remembered her final day with her husband. It speaks volumes about him, she said.
Their car needed new tires. It was snowing. They stopped at a Wendy's to wait for the car repairs to be finished. There, they saw a homeless woman, begging. Mrs. Coleman said her husband not only gave the woman food but went to the couple's car and gave the woman some of the family's clothing so she could arm herself against the chill.
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813-226-3373.
[Last modified January 21, 2008, 23:46:06]