But he was nearly the first.
On Jan. 2, Burnett, 50, walked out of his mother’s home promising to be back in an hour or two. He never returned.
His family found him two days later in a hospital bed, his swollen head rendering his features unrecognizable. His mother, Bertha Johnson, rubbed his hands and feet, trying to make sense of what she was seeing. The brothers and sister surrounding the bedside were stunned.
“It was tremendously hard,” Timothy Beasley said. “My brother was usually the strong one. He was always the one who let me know everything would be OK.”
He said the family was told by sheriff’s investigators that Burnett was robbed at a home in the 1600 block of Cleveland Street and that his head was slammed on the pavement. Reco Deangelo Hurley, 32, was indicted this week on a murder charge. Lt. Blaise Dresser would not comment Friday on specifics of a case pending prosecution.
In the immediate aftermath of the beating, doctors said the best-case scenario for Burnett was a lifetime in a vegetative state. His family said this week that was still preferable to his death.
Eventually the swelling went down and after several months, Burnett was looking around. A tracheotomy prevented him from speaking, but he would move his mouth when music was played as if trying to sing. Occasionally, his mother would find him sitting up with his feet on the floor.
“We saw him as the George that we always knew and loved,” said his sister, Linda Beasley Evans.
From an early age, Burnett was a go-getter who was always willing to mow lawns to earn cash. Later in life, he would run his own landscaping business and gain clients across Augusta. Those clients were among the concerned friends, family and neighbors who constantly pressed the family for information about Burnett’s condition.
In spite of the progress Burnett made, his family could tell the effort was wearing him down. Tim Beasley tried to keep his brother motivated by telling him about all of Burnett’s unfinished tasks, such as teaching his baby brother to edge a lawn. Johnson promised to cook his favorite meals when he came home. But it wasn’t enough.
“He would always kiss me on my ear and tell me he loved me,” Tim Beasley said. Even at the end, “I would do the same and tell him ‘here come those kisses back.’ ”