NEWTON COUNTY, Ga. -- A father and his grown son apologized Wednesday to their two new neighbors.
On the night of April 19, the men had mistaken the couple for burglars breaking into a vacant house. They held them at gunpoint until Sheriff's deputies arrived to arrest the couple.
The husband and wifewere, in fact, the new owners of the house (next door to the home of the two men with the guns) in rural Newton County.
The Sheriff threw out the case against the couple and released them from jail,then arrested the father and son on two felony charges: aggravated assault and false imprisonment and two misdemeanor charges: criminal trespass, and loitering and prowling.
Wednesday afternoon the father and son, Rob and Branden Canole, who are free on bail, walked over to the new house of their new next-door neighbors, Angelica and Jean-Joseph Kalonji, bearing flowers and apologies. (They had to get permission from the court to have any contact with their alleged victims).
"We'd like to offer amends," Rob told Jean-Joseph, "And, you know, we're sorry for what happened. And..."
Jean-Joseph reached out and embraced Rob.
"Thank you," Jean-Joseph said.
"Hope we can be good neighbors, long time," Rob said during their embrace.
Moments later, Rob was seeking Angelica's forgiveness, and they embraced.
"We'll be good neighbors, very good," Rob said. "You forgive me?"
"Sure, I forgive you," Angelica said, "With all my heart, with all my heart I forgive you."
Angelica, who owns a bakery on Main Street in Stone Mountain, gave the Canoles a homemade cake.
"It was a big misunderstanding" that night, Rob told reporters. "[We] just got scared. Didn't know really what to think that night... Hope they understand and [hope] everything's cool."
"Oh, yeah," said Jean-Joseph, standing next to Rob and grasping Rob's hand in support.
"It was a rough night," Branden said. "Just hope everything will beOK between all of us, and we'll be happy from here on out."
"We are ready to be the best neighbors, now and forever," Angelica said.
Rob's wife, Kelly, hugged Angelica. "Thank you for the cake."
"Thank you for the flowers," Angelica said.
"Welcome to the neighborhood," Kelly said, and the two smiled.
But will the Canoles go to prison for what they did to the Kalonjis?
11Alive's Jon Shirek called the Newton County District Attorney, Layla Zon, to find out if she's going to prosecute the Canoles, or reduce or drop the charges. She has not yet called back.
The Canoles' attorney, David LaMalva of Conyers, said it's premature to speculate whether the reconciliation between the two families will influence Zon's decision.
"We know that the folks who make the decisions [about prosecutions] will see this and view this, and we're hoping they understand where we're headed" with making amends.
As for the issue of "vigilante justice," attorneys for both families say it's no longer an issue in their neighborhood.
"Using guns is a dangerous thing to do," said Don Samuel of Atlanta, the Kalonjis' attorney, adding that the Canoles should simply have called 911. "On the other hand, I recognize that the neighbors here, the Canoles, were acting in what they thought was -- to protect the neighborhood" from crime. "They said they will continue to protect my clients, they will protect the Kalonjis in the future. And I think the Kalonjis would do everything they could to protect their new neighbors, as well. Nobody in this case was acting with malice, that's clear."
The Newton County Sheriff is investigating the way his deputies handled the case, beginning that night of April 19 when they responded to the call from the gun-toting Canoles and arrested the Kalonjis.
"The internal investigation is still underway," said the spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, Lt. Mark Mitchell, on Wedneday. "It's in the process of wrapping up."
Samuel would not say whether the Kalonjis might sue the Sheriff's Office. But they will not be suing the Canoles.
"Both families have made it very clear that what they want to do is reconcile," Samuel said. "And I think it speaks a lot about both these families, and their choice to go with reconciliation rather than litigation. And I applaud both families for choosing this route."
No matter what happens next, Rob and Jean-Joseph are already planning to go fishing together on the small lake near their homes.
"Everything will work out fine and we can fish together," Rob said to Jean-Joseph, who responded with a loud, "Oh yeah, I love fishing."