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Killing fields

Metro police are baffled by an exceptionally bloody year in city homicides.

Jerry Bohnen November 13th, 2012

It would be easy to assume that this year’s spike in murders in Oklahoma City has been gang-related. But that might be the wrong conclusion based on a study of the 81 homicides recorded by Oklahoma City police as of Nov. 9. It appears probable the city’s murder list could creep into the 90s by year’s end.

Sgt. Gary Knight
Credit: Shannon Cornman

Compare that to 2011, when there were only 60 homicides recorded in the city.

“We don’t know why,” said Sgt. Gary Knight, assistant public information officer with the Oklahoma City Police Department. “Some were domestic, some involved gang violence, others involved robberies and still others were drug killings.”

The alarming murder rate is reflective of what appears to be a wider problem. Congressional Quarterly lists Oklahoma City as having the ninth-highest crime rate for cities with populations of more than 500,000.

Jaymie Adams of Blanchard was the city’s first homicide victim of the year, her body found Jan. 7 in the 7200 block of S. Douglass Boulevard. The state medical examiner later determined Adams was pregnant at the time of her death, so her unborn child became the city’s second homicide of 2012. Justin Adams, the victim’s husband, was later arrested and charged with the murders.

Several of this year’s murders involved two or three victims. “But that’s not enough to account for the spike,” said Knight. “The best explanation is that a city this size is going to have its share of homicides.”

Two multiple-homicide cases involved domestic incidents in which a wife and child were murdered by the husband who then killed himself. On Feb. 28, the bodies of Tara Shay Johnston and her 16-month-old daughter, Allison, were found in their home on Teakwood Road. The next day, Daniel Johnston, the husband and father, was found dead in a Las Vegas hotel room, where he had shot and killed himself. He had fled there after murdering his family.

Chief Brandon Clabes

About two weeks after that killing, Juan De Los Santos, 43, went to his home on N.W. 15th Street and argued with his estranged wife, Claudia Aguilar, who had filed for divorce. He pulled out a gun and shot and killed the 35-year-old woman and their 5-year old daughter before turning the weapon on himself.

Then slightly more than a month later, shots erupted at one minute past midnight on the city’s south side. At the crime scene on S. Durland, police found the bodies of James Lumpkin, 42, Kayla Ramirez, 19, and Francisco Grajeda, 19. Homicide detectives believe they have solved the case but have no one in custody; the three suspects fled to Mexico and have yet to be apprehended.

Some of the city’s homicides have involved alleged gang members such as Joshua Londale Rogers, known on the streets as “Bad Eye.” Police say he belongs to the 107 Hoover Crips gang and gunned down two people June 7 at the Sooner Haven Apartments.

The victims were Israel Jackson, 24 and Shavon Johnson, 26. Rogers is in Oklahoma County jail facing charges of first-degree murder.

Domestic violence

Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes said most homicides in his city have been domestic in nature. The city recorded eight murder victims in in 2011. So far this year, Midwest City has had seven victims in six murder incidents. “We blame it on an increase in domestic violence,” said Clabes. “It stems from character values — some people just have no value to life. They’d soon as kill you as work out their problems.”

He said there is no way to stop domestic murders, adding, “We can’t stop it unless somebody reaches out for help.”

A dozen detectives work in the OKCPD homicide unit. a team that Knight called a “very special and elite unit of veteran officers.” He said they vary in age from their 30s up to their 60s and made it to the Homicide Division after spending years in other units.

Typically, OKCPD homicide detectives work an eight-hour shift during the day, with two officers on call at night.

“They have tried-and-true ways in what they do,” said Knight, who explained the detectives must do most of their investigative work during daylight hours when interviews are conducted and the officers have access to the courts.

Knight said he believes advanced technology has helped reduce the city’s homicide rate. He suggested that better emergency medical care has kept the numbers down.

“We have highly skilled and trained professionals now on the scene, not to mention improvements at trauma centers,” he said.

A city this size is going to have its share of homicides.

—Gary Knight

In short, gone are the days, such as in the 1970s, when two people from a funeral home arrived in a station wagon to transport a victim to the hospital. Emergency care has made great strides in the decades since. Crime victims who might have died in the ’70s and ’80s are now being saved. Not only are the responders better trained and skilled, but their ambulances are mobile trauma centers. The chances of saving a life in the field are far greater.

Knight notes that all parts of the city have experienced their share of violent deaths. For now, homicide detectives can only wait on the next call that someone has met a violent death.

They cannot stop the increase in murders, nor could they take credit for a year when there was a drop in the number of city homicides. As Knight put it, “Nobody really knows what the driving force is.”

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