A year that was marked by increased gun violence in Atlantic County ended with more than half its homicides unsolved.
There were 30 killings in the county in 2012, including a police-involved shooting that remains under investigation. Of those, the perpetrator is believed known in 14, including a warrant issued in a Pleasantville killing last month. That suspect remains a fugitive.
“One unsolved homicide is one too many,” acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said. “One mother who doesn’t have closure is too many.”
A major hindrance is the continued lack of cooperation from witnesses and a street code that often causes people to take matters into their own hands.
“That is the big problem, the code that you don’t talk to the cops and handle the problems yourself,” McClain said. “Look what it’s created.”
On April 9, Joseph Hurt was killed in Brigantine Homes. Even though his alleged killer was arrested four days later, the “street justice” still kicked in when the home of the suspect’s mother was riddled with gunfire. The family had already left in fear of retaliation.
McClain would not comment on specifics about retribution, including at least four homicides in the past two years believed to have been committed by suspects who later became victims themselves.
Most of last year’s killings were in Atlantic City, where 19 people were killed. The first was just a half hour into 2012, when Kendal Hudgins was gunned down at a house party on Riverside Drive. The 30-year-old man’s death remains one of eight unsolved in the city.
Numerous attempts have been made to get residents involved, including a “Stop the Silence” movement that included videos and barbecues, peace walks and the new tip411 system that allows people to text information anonymously to law enforcement.
By texting tip411, or 847411, and beginning the text with ACPD, the information goes to an officer manning the computer and can allow a dialogue.
“We’ve been trying to stress the anonymity,” said Sgt. Monica McMenamin. “There is no way to trace it.”
But, “it is being underutilized,” she said.
Police know residents are tech-savvy — often texting, tweeting or posting to Facebook from crime scenes — so authorities are hoping that they will soon start sending information to law enforcement, rather than just to one another.
“Anything,” McMenamin said. “A license plate, a description, a direction of flight.”
McClain said people should remember they need to come forward not to help law enforcement, but to help the victims’ families who suffer additional pain by not seeing justice for their loved ones.
Cooperation is especially important after a year when the city saw a nearly 40 percent increase in people killed or wounded by gunfire.
In 2011, 43 people were shot, including nine who died of their wounds, according to numbers compiled by the state’s Regional Operations Intelligence Center. A year later, there were 60 people shot, a dozen fatally.
Statewide, that increase was just about 2 percent, ROIC numbers show.
Pleasantville also saw increased violence with eight homicides, double the number of the previous year.
That includes a double homicide Dec. 5, when Taron Williams and Todd Mitchell were fatally shot. Williams was 19; Mitchell just shy of his 14th birthday.
No suspects have been named in the case.
But Pleasantville Police Chief Jose Ruiz said people have been good at sharing information on various crimes in the city.
“We get calls all the time,” he said Friday. “We just got a phone call yesterday from somebody offering information on one of our cases.”
The city has made an effort to reach out to the community, having officers go out and talk to business owners and residents.
“We’re very proactive on the street,” he said. “We cannot do it by ourselves. We’re not on every corner, but they are.”
While the Prosecutor’s Office Major Crimes Unit leads homicide investigations, the local municipality does have officers assigned to each case as well.
“We assign a detective to work hand-in-hand with the Prosecutor’s Office,” Ruiz said. “That way, there’s not a gap as far as that goes. We go with it until either it’s solved or we hit a dead end, but it’s never a closed case.”
McClain said he believes that the community is getting tired of the silence that follows the violence.
“I tend to be an optimistic about these things,” he said. “People, after a while, are just going to have enough. I think we’re coming close to that.”
In fact, the last fatal shooting in the county was sparked when residents called to report two males in Stanley Holmes Village with guns at about 1:45 p.m. Dec. 17. Police responded and a chase ensued.
One suspect was arrested. But Derreck Mack, 18, was shot during the chase. Reports differ as to whether Mack was surrendering or reaching for a weapon when he was shot.
A gun was found near his body after the shooting.
The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the incident without involvement from the city’s police. McClain said he could not give a time frame for when the investigation would be complete.
“It is going to get priority,” he said. “There is a mother of a young man and a family who wants answers and deserves answers. We’re going to make sure we get those answers and they are the correct answers.”
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