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Amid rash of fatal shootings, 2017 could become deadliest in El Paso County history

October 31, 2017 Updated: November 1, 2017 at 11:58 am
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CSPD detectives were on the scene of a shooting in the 3800 block of Soft Breeze Way, where authorities say three people were shot a party early Sunday morning. Photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette

As Colorado Springs police investigate the city's fourth shooting and second homicide in five days, the realization is starting to sink in: 2017 could become the deadliest in El Paso County history.

The latest victim - found dead Monday night at a business on East Platte Avenue - is being investigated as the city's 25th homicide. Those cases, combined with the county's six killings, match the five-year average of 31. This year already has seen the fourth-most homicides over the past 10 years, with two months left in 2017.

If the current pace of about three homicides a month holds, El Paso would end the year with 37 homicides, elevating it to the second-deadliest year on record, behind 2013's 44 slayings.

"In a short amount of time, having that many shootings is clearly unique for Colorado Springs," Lt. Howard Black said of the recent gun violence. But he couldn't speak to what's driving the violence, calling each event too "different" and "unique" to draw conclusions.

"Violence isn't just a police issue," Black said. "It can be a community issue. We all have some level of responsibility as a community to come together to help solve issues of violence."

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Crime scene investigators from the CSPD investigate the bullet riddled wall and glass at an Albertaco's Mexican restaurant on Sunday, October 29, 2017. Three victims were shot early Sunday morning near Austin Bluffs Blvd. and Barnes Rd. One died from the bullet wounds. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) 

Police repeatedly stress that there is no way to predict how deadly a year will be.

For example, 17 homicides were reported in the first five months of 2009, but the year ended with a record-tying low of 25. Other years start slow but end high; 2016 had no homicides until April but 30 by year's end.

Multiple-death cases also can skew numbers.

While there was only one double-killing last year, four events this year have resulted in nine deaths: Lucero Badillo Castillo, 26, and her children Laela and Rodolfo, ages 5 and 8, were killed in a suspected murder-suicide in January; friends Natalie Cano-Partida, 16, and Derek Greer, 15, were found dead in March; Barbara Pepper, 53, and son Chris Pepper, 20, were killed in May; and Murphy siblings Noah, 7, and Sophia, 5, were stabbed to death in October.

Whether any of the recent shootings are connected remains to be seen. Black declined to discuss ongoing investigations but said, "We're always looking to see if we have a pattern."

What's also notable among this year's homicides is the age of victims.

While the average age of 2017's homicide victims is 28, slightly younger than the five-year average of 30, eight of this year's victims have been 18 or younger.

In addition to the Badillo and Murphy children dying at the hands of relatives, 6-week old Zayden Ostrander died of neglect. Cano-Partida and Greer were shot to death as part of what prosecutors have described as a possible gang-related scheme. Nathaniel Czajkowski, 16, was killed Sunday in a shooting near a fast-food restaurant. He and two friends, who were wounded, had earlier attended a party where three others were shot and wounded.

The county hasn't had more than four victims younger than 18 since 2011, when nine children were killed - six of them age 1 or younger, records showed.

Recently released police statistics showed juvenile crime has not significantly increased over the past five years. Arrests were relatively steady, and drug/narcotic and liquor law violations actually plummeted. Motor vehicle thefts and kidnappings slightly increased.

Minors also don't appear to be pulling the trigger on violence more often.

Two juveniles were accused of murder in 2014 and 2016, none in 2015, and three in 2013. Teens also have been accused in three killings this year, police records show.

So why are young people dying?

Police can't say.

Black said police haven't seen enough evidence, nor has enough time passed, to point to any trends.

Information relayed by Coronado High School students who attended the party on Soft Breeze Way, where gunfire first erupted Sunday, said the shooting started during a fight between rival gangs.

Black declined to speak to any gang connection but said detectives are fervently pursuing answers. Though suspects have not been identified in any of the shootings over the past week, Black said, "none of these cases are dormant in any way."

"We're still actively evaluating all of the interviews and evidence," he said. "The most important part of doing this level of casework is keeping the integrity of the case until all leads are exhausted, especially when we're still interviewing suspects.

"We want them to be able to tell us what occurred, not what they're reading or seeing on the news."

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Contact Kaitlin Durbin: 636-0362

Twitter: @njKaitlinDurbin

Facebook: Kaitlin Durbin

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