Six people were slain in Cumberland County’s Bridgeton, Commercial Township and Vineland during the first 105 days of this year.
That is already two more than all of 2013 for Cumberland County, and only one shy of the number of people killed in 2012. There were 10 homicides in the county in both 2010 and 2011.
Information from authorities and those who knew the victims shows that the only seemingly common threads among the slayings are that the victims were all male and that five died from gunfire. Also, some of those killed apparently knew their assailants. Otherwise:
- The victims ranged in age from 21 to 85.
- Occupations varied from a sanitation worker to a retired weapons system analyst.
- The slayings occurred during incidents that included a domestic dispute, a fight at a party and a visit to an apartment complex.
- Some of the victims had no criminal records, others had had earlier run-ins with the law.
- The incidents occurred in rural, suburban and urban settings.
The killings have county law enforcement and government officials trying to figure out what happened in the less-than-four-month period. They are also trying to determine what can be done long-term to reduce violence in a county where, some officials believe, the problem is linked to poor economic, health and education indicators.
“We rely on trends that continue over a period of time and show a certain consistency as far as underlying reasons,” Vineland Police Chief Timothy Codispoti said. “For what has occurred this year, we could not do it. It’s too early to indicate that there is any kind of trend.”
Codispoti, who is in his 31st year in law enforcement, said there are some occurrences that can not be explained. That would include 1988, when the number of homicides in Vineland spiked to about a dozen.
“It was really an anomaly,” he said of those slayings, which included a man who killed three family members. “It was just something that happened.”
Cumberland County Freeholder Director Joseph Derella said officials, as part of a recently expanded initiative to reduce juvenile offenders, are mapping crime throughout the county. That will hopefully help county officials determine “common threads” to crimes and better information on how to combat those problems, he said.
“One of the things that keeps coming to the surface is what leads to crime is (a lack) of good education and economics,” he said.
Officials are trying to improve some of those conditions through a planned full-time technical high school and other projects that will result in a better trained county workforce, Derella said.
But one of the more recent initiatives that county officials hope will have a solid, long-term impact involves targeting juveniles through the Cumberland County Positive Youth Development Coalition.
The coalition developed out of a program in Vineland that officials said reduced juvenile crime in that city over the past few years. The program now includes police departments in Vineland, Bridgeton and Millville, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office and various other organizations. The goal of the program is to prevent youths from entering the state’s juvenile justice system, or preventing those in that system from becoming adult offenders.
“Get them on the straight and narrow and that person is going to be far less likely to commit crimes as an adult,” said Tracy Swan, a spokeswoman for Rutgers University’s Walter Rand Institute and who is helping to coordinate the program.
“Incarcerating youths does nothing to reduce future criminal behavior,” she said. “They just learn to be better criminals. It’s one of the worst risk factors to be incarcerated.”
Michael DeLeon spent more than a decade in state prison on drug charges. He now operates Steered Straight, a Vineland-based organization that helps juveniles avoid criminal activity.
“If you eliminate juvenile arrests, you limit adult crime,” DeLeon contends. “There are answers to preventing violence.”
Derella acknowledges that all the work will not result in immediate results, but is willing to stick by what he calls “a plan we think will address the route of the problem.”
Codispoti said he strongly supports early intervention as a way to reduce future crime, saying it “shows the most promise.”
But he also contends that all problems can not be blamed on economics and education.
“It’s going to come down to people understanding the importance of being good people,” he said.
Homicides in Cumberland County this year:
- Jan. 16: Jermarl Dawkins was shot multiple times and found dead in a field on the property of Burlington Manor Apartments on South Burlington Road in Bridgeton. Dawkins, 34, of Sunset Avenue in Bridgeton, was apparently visiting someone at the apartment complex before he was shot.
Authorities eventually lodged charges of murder, conspiracy and various weapons offenses against Paul Willoughby of Stewart Lane in Fairfield Township, and Troy Donini of Landis Avenue in Vineland.
- Feb. 15: George A. Lewis died after being shot once at his home in the 300 block of Spruce Street in Bridgeton. Lewis was hosting a parting at his house and suffered the fatal wound during an altercation that occurred while the party was in progress.
Authorities lodged charges of murder and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose against another Spruce Street resident, 36-year-old Michael Russell Jr.
- March 22: Eugene Tabinowski, 85, dies after being stabbed in the head, neck and face about 24 hours earlier in his home in the 200 block of Spring Road in the Laurel Lakes section of Commercial Township.
Michael Duberson, 40, of Millville, is charged with murder, aggravated assault and various weapons offenses.
- March 22: Benjamin Broughton, 29, dies after being shot in the eye during an apparent domestic involving his girlfriend, the mother of two of his children and her cousin, Errick Young. Authorities find the wounded Broughton lying on the front yard of his home on Main Street in the Port Norris section of Commercial Township.
Young, 20, of Millville, is eventually charged with murder, aggravated assault and various weapons offenses.
- April 14: Jonathan Candelario, 21, dies after being shot in the abdomen at a residence in the 800 block of East Montrose Street in Vineland.
- April 15: Arthur Rease, 39, dies after being shot in the back with a semi-automatic rifle at his residence in the 500 block of East Park Avenue in Vineland the previous day.
The deaths of Candelario and Rease were part of a series of incidents that reportedly began with some kind of altercation at a private party. That altercation evolved into a three-hour series of incidents that began late on April 13 and continued into the early morning hours of April 14.
No arrests have yet been made in connection with the deaths of Candelario and Rease.