Loved ones of man killed trying to stop a thief remember him as a ‘protector’

Friends and family of 54-year-old Dean Phillips said the way he died shows the courage with which he lived.

Phillips, a father of five, was shot by a man he had confronted who was trying to break into cars in the parking lot of the iconic Manuel’s Tavern in Northeast Atlanta Thursday night.

"He was a protector," said Courtney Sills, a former classmate and longtime friend. "He definitely had a protective spirit about himself."

Loved ones said Phillips was a successful entrepreneur turned philanthropist. He launched a foundation called Was and Now, which gives children living in poverty beds to sleep on at night.

"This brother is truly a brother who gives, who serves, and who loves," said Gwen Mason, director of the Stewart Foundation, for which Phillips volunteered to mentor young people.

That night in Manuel’s parking lot, in confronting the thief, Mason said Phillips was standing up for what was right.

"He wasn’t going to back down, he wasn’t going to go hide," said Mason. "He saw something, he said something, he did something. He is a man of action."

Mason said the foundation had just awarded him the Joe Beasley Award for Courage a few months back.

"It’s just the most tragic, disgusting thing. To hear that his life was taken by a thief," said Sills. "He would give you anything. He would give you the shirt off his back. He gave so many people jobs, he connected so many people with employment."

The killer is still on the loose.

Witnesses said the guy jumped into a getaway car, but investigators haven’t released anything confirming that.

Those who knew Phillips are not only mourning his loss, but also the countless young lives he’ll now never be able to change.

 "The seeds that Dean would have sown into those children’s lives, would’ve made all of us better," Mason said. "Whomever these individuals are that committed this horrendous crime, I simply said to you, do the right thing. Stop it now. Because you can only run for so long."

FOX 5’s Rob DiRienzo has been in touch with Dean’s wife, Sandra.

She said she is heartbroken beyond words.

She pleads with anyone who knows anything about her husband’s murder to call investigators.

Sandra asks anyone who wants to honor Dean’s memory to donate to the foundation he started.

Mason said her organization, the Stewart Foundation, is also collecting donations to help the Phillips family through this tragic time.