By BISHOP NASH
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Anyone who has picked up a phone, looked at a newspaper, turned on the television or otherwise heard the local news recently seems to be asking themselves and their neighbors the same question: What in the world is going on in Huntington?
Although the city’s violent crime rate regularly hangs above the national average, the past week has been much to process: five shootings, three dead, three wounded – all within four days and walking distance apart.
The city’s most recent of now 19 confirmed homicides have not been random acts of violence, Huntington Police Capt. Hank Dial said Thursday at a news conference, and detectives are tracing the “strong probability of connectivity” between them.
While local drug trafficking is often blamed on Detroit travelers – and not without credence – the victims and suspects in the most recent shootings all appear to be Huntington natives.
“We’re not just looking for folks from Detroit. We’re looking for criminals,” Dial added.
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams added that controlling the city’s recent violent outburst – alongside the greater opioid epidemic – is critical not only for the public safety, but also for the city’s development moving forward.
“Every city has problems, but the truly great communities address their problems head-on and find ways to be able to overcome it,” Williams said. “But frankly, if we don’t get this drug problem and rash of violence under control, everything that we are doing is placed at risk.
“That’s what’s on the table right now, and we know that if we don’t take care of this, all the good that we have is eclipsed.”
Twelve of the 19 victims were killed by firearms. Five were beaten or died in physical struggles. One person was stabbed, while another, Carrie Jo Wood, was dismembered, making her cause of death unclear.
While the exact motivations for some remain uncertain, 10 are believed to be drug-related, five domestic in nature and four influenced by alcohol.
Arrests have been made in 13 of the 19 homicide cases. Dial said the HPD has a resolve rate of 79 percent in cases this year versus a resolve rate of 62 percent nationally.
Sixteen of the victims have been men and three women, with an average age around 36. Of the 17 defendants arrested or known suspects, 14 are men and three are women, with an average age around 31. The youngest victim, Aaron Black, was 20 when he was killed. The oldest, Ned Walker, was 59.
Huntington recorded a violent crime rate of 644 per 100,000 in 2016, well above average, according to FBI statistics published annually in September, and has continued to trend higher over the past five years – 545 in 2014 to 593 in 2015. By comparison, the national violent crime rate averaged to 386 per 100,000 residents in 2016.
Huntington’s highest level of violent crime came in 2007, during a surge of crack cocaine activity, reaching 754 violent crimes per 100,000, but increased police presence and innovative community efforts helped lower the rate into the 500 range in the following years.
The city is not alone in suffering from an increase in violent crime over the past few years. National violent crime rates grew 4.1 percent in 2016, the FBI reports. Murders accounted for around 1.4 percent of all violent crimes – approximately 72,250 reported nationwide last year – an increase of 8.6 percent from 2015.
Reporter Courtney Hessler contributed to this report. Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter @BishopNash.
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