FORT WORTH, Texas - Nearly two years after the death of Atatiana Jefferson, there is a setback with the effort to rename part of a highway in her honor.
Officials only recently realized that a military distinction already exists for the same stretch. It’s known as the Purple Heart Trail and that limits the scope of what the council can do without state approval.
The city is now discussing how to move forward on the matter after the name change was formally signed off on just weeks ago. The city approved renaming part of Interstate 35W between Allen Avenue and Highway 287.
"We have the ability, as of right now, to change the frontage road," said councilman Chris Nettles, adding there would be assistance for those who would need to change their addresses.
But it remains unclear how the existing memorial road name was overlooked throughout the city’s engagement and proposal that was approved August 17. Officials only said they never heard about the Purple Heart Trail designation from TxDOT.
Any decision to rename the actual highway must go through a process with the state legislature.
Jefferson was killed in 2019. She was inside her mother’s home on a late night babysitting her nephew and playing video games. That's when former police officer Aaron Dean, on a welfare check, shot her through a backyard window. Dean is awaiting trial for murder.
James Smith is the neighbor who noticed the front door open at the home called for a welfare check that night. He has made Jefferson’s legacy a priority mission and says this setback will not stop him.
"I want her remembered. She’s going to make changes in the city of Fort Worth, she already has made changes. I want that to be a legacy of change for the city," Smith said.
Nettles feels the same.
"This is not a sprint. I’m going to stay focused and keep pushing with Mr. Smith if he’s willing to continue. We are going to go forth through the state, even if I have to go there and speak on behalf of Fort Worthians," the councilman said.
Any effort with state leaders could not begin until January 2023.