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Recent South grad killed in Statesboro
WEBgrant james spencer
Grant James Spencer

STATESBORO - Authorities have made an arrest in connection with the beating death of a recent South Forsyth High School graduate who was attending Georgia Southern University.

According to Statesboro police, 18-year-old Michael Gatto was found unresponsive at Rude Rudy's bar about midnight Thursday, suffering from head injuries. The bar is adjacent to the college campus.

Police Cpl. Justin Samples said Gatto was taken to East Georgia Regional Medical Center, from where he was flown to a hospital in Savannah. 

Bulloch County Coroner Jake Futch said that Gatto died about 1:38 p.m. Thursday and that his body will be taken to a nearby Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab for an autopsy Tuesday.

Samples said a bouncer employed by Rude Rudy's, 20-year-old Grant James Spencer, has been arrested on aggravated battery charges. Charges may be upgraded later as investigations continue, but remained unchanged as of Friday night.

Spencer is a former wrestler with Johns Creek High School, according to media reports.

Gatto graduated in May from South, where he was a longtime member of the track and field team, according to the team’s Twitter feed, which shared this update following his death.

"Michael Gatto was an integral part of our track program for four years. He was a tremendous young man and will be missed by all that knew him," it read.

Rude Rudy's offered condolences to the Gatto’s family through its Facebook page, announcing the bar would be closed that night and that Spencer had been fired.

"Our deepest sympathies and prayers go out to the Gatto family," the statement reads. "At the time of the incident, the employee in question was not working. His employment at Rude Rudy's has since been terminated. Rude Rudy's will continue to do everything possible to assist in the investigation.

"Due to the gravity of the situation, Rude Rudy's will not make further comments until the investigation has been completed. Out of respect for the Gatto family and to further assist authorities in their investigation, Rude Rudy's will be closed for the evening."

Rude Rudy's owner John Starkey could not immediately be reached for further comment and did not return phone calls Friday.

Georgia Southern University President Dr. Brooks Keel expressed condolences to the families involved.

"The entire Georgia Southern University family is deeply saddened by this tragic event and our thoughts and prayers are with Michael's family and friends during this very difficult time," he said in a statement released Friday.

"My heart is broken by this tragedy that we now face. I call on the Eagle Nation to rally together in support of Michael Gatto, the Gatto family and friends and each other," he said.

Counseling services are available to assist and support the campus community at the University Counseling Center, he said.


Holli Deal Saxon of the Statesboro Herald contributed to this report.