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Two mass shootings led to increase in Colorado Springs homicides in 2015

By: Chhun Sun
January 2, 2016 Updated: January 2, 2016 at 4:36 pm
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Two mass shootings that took a combined seven lives accounted for an increased number of Colorado Springs homicides in 2015.

In all, 26 city deaths were ruled homicide - three more than in 2014. Nearly half of the killings - 12 - happened in the final three months of 2015, according to Colorado Springs police data. Five homicide cases in 2015 remain without a suspect. 

"Each one of those is a tragedy," Colorado Springs Police Chief Peter Carey said. "It's not a number. It's a story of a heartbreaking fashion."

El Paso County saw 29 homicides last year, including one officer-involved shooting of a 17-year-old Fountain boy.

Interactive: El Paso County 2015 homicides

The Colorado Springs homicides were largely all over the city - with the exception of two mass shootings within 28 days of each other - a change from the 2014 trend in which 10 killings happened in the 80910 ZIP code.

"Looking over the area that we cover, boy, I'll tell you what, it's all over the place, from up the north end of town, out to the west to Stetson Hills," said Lt. Adrian Vasquez, who oversees the police department's violent crimes and homicides unit. "We got pretty much every part of town covered."

Three homicides happened in the span of a few blocks near downtown Colorado Springs.

On the morning of Oct. 31, investigators said Noah Harpham, 33, gunned down a passing bicyclist, 35-year-old Andrew Alan Myers, on the 200 block of North Prospect Street before he continued his half-mile rampage on Platte Avenue. He then killed Jennifer Vasquez, 42, and Christy Galella, 35 at a house for women battling alcoholism and substance abuse.

Harpham died in a shootout with police.

Still reeling from the Halloween shooting, another tragedy struck.

On Nov. 27, Robert Lewis Dear Jr. allegedly shot and killed three people at the city's Planned Parenthood clinic at 3480 Centennial Blvd. University of Colorado at Colorado Springs police officer Garrett Swasey, 44, Iraq war veteran Ke'Arre Stewart, 29, and Jennifer Markovsky, a 35-year-old mother of two, were killed that day.

Dear surrendered after a five-hour standoff. Charged with 179 felonies, including eight counts of first-degree murder, his case continues to attract attention from media outlets across the country. In his first appearance inside a courtroom, he professed his guilt and called himself "a warrior for babies."

Colorado Springs nearly finished the year without a homicide.

But on Dec. 27, Keith Caperton, 54, was found dead in the parking lot of Newport Square Apartment Homes on the city's northeast side. Court documents state he died after suffering a neck injury while in a chokehold. Keith Caperton, 56, was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in his younger brother's death.

Of the homicides reported last year, 15 involved males ranging from 2 to 54 years old. The other cases involved 11 females between 26 to 55 years.

The youngest and first homicide of the year was Luis Daniel "Danny" Juarez Molina, who died Jan. 17 after police said the toddler was punched with brass knuckles by his mother's boyfriend, Raul Alvarado, for disturbing him while he was playing a video game.

Factors and circumstances surrounding many of the homicides were diverse and unique. Twenty died by gunshot, three by blunt force, two by stabbing and one by drug poisoning.

Colorado Springs police clear about 9 of 10 homicides, Vasquez said. The national average of solved cases is just above 50 percent, he said.

Last year, Vasquez said, the department sat at about 80 percent in solving cases - though complete results won't be available until later in 2016, when the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office completes its reviews.

"I really do believe that CSPD has a great approach in how we respond to homicides," Vasquez said. "You have to have a tremendous amount of empathy. We find it important that we have people who are empathetic about what the families are going through, and they're going through one of their most difficult times."

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Contact Chhun Sun

636-0235

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