With two deadly shootings late Wednesday night, Columbus has reached and surpassed the grim milestone of 100 homicides in 2022 - two months later than last year's record year of slayings.
Around 10:40 p.m. Wednesday, a man was shot in a dispute between neighbors on Highfield Drive, located in the Sharon Heights area on the city's North Side. The man was rushed to OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital, where he died at 11:11 p.m. The name of the man, the city's 100th homicide victim this year, has not yet been released.
Just over a half hour later, at 11:14 p.m. Wednesday, 33-year-old Mayfield Evans III, was found shot inside his home on the 1600 block of Harvester Lane on the Northeast Side. Evans was rushed to a hospital, but he died at 12:02 a.m. Thursday, becoming the 101st homicide victim in the city in 2022.
In 2021, Columbus reached 100 homicides on July 1. By the end of last year, deaths from gun violence and other means in the city resulted in a new record for homicides for the second year in a row with a total 205.
Columbus homicide database: see where homicides have occurred in 2022
Columbus police Cmdr. Mark Denner said the police division doesn't take relief when homicide numbers are lower, but rather regards each death as a life unnecessarily lost to violence.
"We're not celebrating it," Denner said of the lower frequency of homicides so far this year. "The reality is number one was just as important as number 100. And I think that's the way that we approach it. We care because it's a human life and that's what we value."
Another reason homicide detectives may not care about milestones with homicides is likely because they can be all over the place from year to year.
In 2020, for example, the previous record year for homicides with 175 until last year, Columbus reached 100 homicides on Sept. 7 - just over two weeks earlier than this year. But two weeks later on Sept. 19, 2021, a triple shooting in the Hilltop led to the 108th and 109th homicides that year.
When Columbus reached 100 homicides and total homicides 2016-2022
A 10-year review of homicide figures by the Dispatch found that in the 2016-2019, the city regularly did not reach its 100th homicide until later in the year. In 2019, the 100th homicide was on Dec. 17 and there were 105 total for the year. In 2018, Columbus reached 100 homicides on Dec. 18 and there were 103 for the year. In 2017, the 100th homicide was on Oct. 10 and the year-end total was 143. In 2016, Columbus reached its 100th homicide on Dec. 17 and there were five more by year's end.
From 2013-2015, there were fewer than 100 homicides a year.
"That's a sad number when you get into triple digits," said Malissa Thomas-St. Clair, leader and co-founder of Mothers of Murdered Columbus Children, who lost her son to violence in 2013.
"That's disheartening," she said of Columbus reaching 100 homicides again in 2022. "We know that's alarming. And it's also an eye-opener that our work is never done."
Thomas-St. Clair reflected on the human tragedy of homicides in the city and the impact on families and friends left to mourn. On April 29, 2013, her 22-year-old son, Anthony Thomas-St. Clair, was stabbed to death by another man when he went to collect a debt from the sale of promethazine, a prescription antihistamine with codeine. Richard R. Cochran, 51, was sentenced in 2014 to six years in prison after he pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter.
Read more: Motivated by own son's death, Malissa Thomas-St. Clair fights for end to Columbus violence
Thomas-St. Clair and other mothers of homicide victims seek to build a coalition of community organizations to advocate for an end to violent crime in Columbus.
"We just have to really remain really diligent and determined to continue," she said.
Working together to reduce violent crime
While she hates seeing the city reach 100 homicides this year, Thomas-St. Clair said she wants to "stay encouraged" by the lower frequency of killings to date compared to previous record-breaking years. She said that is evidence that the work that Columbus police and city officials and many organizations, including hers, are doing to reduce violent crime is beginning to bear fruit.
"So we want the community to remain resilient, but also remain patient. Now, telling a mother like myself, who's lost a child to violence, to remain patient is not ideal," Thomas-St. Clair said. "But we want them to remain encouraged that our foundation is putting our pain into purpose so another mother doesn't join our sisterhood."
Denner said the Division of Police has taken many steps toward the goal of reducing violent crime in the city through proactive measures like getting officers into the community and working with community partners.
He also cited the division's ongoing Operation Unity, an effort to focus enforcement on preventing violent crime in neighborhoods, and additional summertime initiatives that include overtime pay to put police in the parks and the installation of temporary cameras and lights.
"Getting officers into the community, working with the community and trying to address crime and arrest individuals that maybe were committing acts of violence, I think definitely contribute to that (goal of reducing violent crime)," Denner said.
In February, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther declared gun violence a health crisis, and that the city was forming a broad multi-disciplinary coalition to pressure Ohio and U.S. lawmakers to pass legislation to help get illegal guns off the streets.
In May, the Department of Public Safety announced it would be beginning its Group Violence Intervention (GVI) initiative, designed to reduce "street group-involved violence" by collaborating with community organizations and members to focus on individuals in organized groups that are associated with a majority of the violent crime in the city.
In June, the city announced it had seized more than 1,500 guns at that time in cooperation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and that the ATF would be establishing Columbus as a center for processing firearm database queries.
Thomas St.-Clair said that she likes the increased funding and initiatives put forward by the city and police to directly address violent crime. She also said she trusts the Columbus police leadership, and believes they are working on developing relationships with community organizations like hers.
"I am cautiously optimistic, and I'd say cautiously, because we need more time to see where they're gonna go," Thomas St.-Clair said.
North Linden official: 'One homicide is one too many'
Carol Perkins, chair of the North Linden Area Commission, said her commission remains very concerned about the continued loss of life to violence in the city, including the five homicides in North Linden to date this year. While she believes the city and police division are taking active steps to address gun violence, she said more can be done.
"There's no silver bullet, there's no 'one-shot-fits-all,' and I think we need to do whatever we can to reduce and eliminate what is going on," Perkins said. "One homicide is one too many."
Thomas-St. Clair said members of the community need to step up and get more involved in helping police reduce violent crime in the city.
"We can't get too over ourselves and think that what we're doing is enough. We can't settle. Because these parents are continuing to lose their children," Thomas-St. Clair said. "They don't care about what efforts you did, because it didn't save their child."
Denner said community partnerships are essential to the work the police division is doing to try to prevent homicides and violent crime returning to the numbers in 2020 and 2021.
"We have to keep pushing forward and building relationships with the community, and I think that the key part is the trust on both sides," Denner said. "And I think working together ... hopefully we'll never see another year like (2021)."
Dispatch reporter Bethany Bruner contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus reaches 100 homicides in 2020 at slower rate than record 2021