Three murders can happen in a day, in Columbus.
Police know this from experience: In 2016, three people in the same family were found slain in east Columbus, their bodies discovered the morning of Monday, Jan. 4, the first day back at work after the New Year’s holiday weekend.
When all can change in a day, the fact that Columbus has had fewer homicides so far this year than last is of little comfort.
“That could drastically change,” Assistant Police Chief Gil Slouchick said earlier this month.
Police have investigated 14 homicides this year, and decided one was justified. By mid-June 2018, the city had counted 17. So that’s a difference of only three, which could change in a day.
But the month that may be the worst is yet to come.
Ledger-Enquirer figures for the past five years show July is Columbus’ deadliest month for homicides, with 19 since 2014.
Adding up homicides by month from the years 2014-2019 show a rise in fall and winter:
- August had 17.
- January and April each had 16.
- November had 15.
- February, May, September and December each had about a dozen.
- June and October each had around 10.
- The fewest were in March, with only six.
In 2017, Columbus had a significant cluster of mid- to late summer killings, with seven in July and six each in August and September.
Does the time of year make a difference?
“You know, people say that the summertime causes more,” Slouchick said. “In 2017, in July we had seven; August, we had six. Then you turn around and in ’18, in July we had four, the same number we had in November, and we only had one or two in August.”
It fluctuates year to year, he said, but statistics show assaults increase over the summer.
A 2014 U.S. Department of Justice special report on seasonal crime trends found that aggravated assault, sexual assault and intimate partner violence all rise over the summer.
“We know that aggravated assaults tend to spike just a little bit during the summer months,” Slouchick said. “And of course in aggravated assaults, a bullet or a knife wound goes a quarter of an inch one way or the other, that could be a murder.”
When Columbus police say “murder,” they mean a death resulting in a murder charge, as defined by Georgia law. If the killing is determined to be justified, such as a homeowner’s acting in self-defense to shoot an intruder, the police don’t count it.
The law reads in part: “A person commits the offense of murder when he unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being.”
That differs from a “homicide,” which means one person killing another, whether the killer is charged with a crime or not.
Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan counts Columbus’ toll by the number of homicides, because the Georgia death certificate coroners use does not distinguish between a “murder” and a justifiable killing: A homicide is a homicide, and a death report has only five categories for cause of death: natural causes such as disease, accidental as in car crashes, suicide, homicide, and undetermined.
Because police count only murders and the coroner counts all homicides, their yearly totals rarely match.
Here’s the police count of “murders” over the past five years, followed by the coroner’s tally of homicides:
- 2014: 22 murders; 23 homicides.
- 2015: 19 murders; 22 homicides.
- 2016: 25 murders; 28 homicides.
- 2017: 38 murders, 43 homicides.
- 2018: 30 murders; 34 homicides.
- 2019, so far: 13 murders; 14 homicides.
The police count of 13 this year doesn’t match the coroner’s tally of 14 because police decided the Feb. 8 fatal shooting of 55-year-old John Wells Jr. was self-defense, a justifiable homicide. Wells and a girlfriend were embroiled in a domestic dispute when the woman’s son heard her screaming and tried to intervene, exchanging gunfire with Wells at an apartment on Bridgewater Road, investigators said.
Domestic violence is among the factors that play into Columbus’ homicide count. Besides Wells, three other deaths resulted from it this year, police said: John Anthony Allport, 55, on Feb. 20; Kelly Levinsohn, 44, on May 11; and De Ann King, 34, on May 25.
Columbus in the past five years also has had a spate of drug-related killings, particularly drug robberies in which dealers were set up and gunned down. Deaths involving teenagers, particularly with guns, also are a recurring trend.
One this year was the April 23 slaying of Roy Wilborn, 60, who police said was gunned down by a 17-year-old who robbed the homeless man of a bicycle.
Slouchick pointed to an aggravated battery case Wednesday, in which a 14-year-old is alleged to have shot a 9-year-old boy on Andrea Drive. Though not a fatality, it illustrates the issue of children gaining access to firearms, he said.
“A lot of times these kids don’t understand the importance of life,” he said. That makes them a danger not just to each other, but to the police and to anyone else within range, he said: “Kids with guns on the street is not good for anybody.”
Detectives trying to catch up on unsolved cases from previous years have emphasized one in particular: The Jan. 16, 2017, fatal shooting of 17-year-old Destiny Nelson, gunned down at the door to her family’s home in Bull Creek Apartments.
Authorities say her shooting was a case of mistaken identity, as they believe she was killed in retaliation for the Jan. 5, 2017, death of Dominique Devonte Horton, 22. He fatally was shot when someone fired into a crowd that gathered on 32nd Avenue to watch two girls fight.
“I’d love to solve that one,” Slouchick said of Nelson’s case. “This young woman had her whole life ahead of her, was a good student, doing all the right things, and was taken from us at a very, very early age. She wasn’t the target…. We’d really like some information on that one.”
A $10,000 reward is offered to anyone with information that can clear that case. Those with tips may call 706-653-3400.