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String of killings give glimpse into Tampa's recent surge in violence

A map shows where the more than 20 killings have happened in Tampa this year. [Google Map created by John Martin | Times researcher]
A map shows where the more than 20 killings have happened in Tampa this year. [Google Map created by John Martin | Times researcher]
Published Jun. 6, 2015

They were fathers and sons, they were brothers and friends. Some lived lives of crime. Some were students who had yet to finish high school.

Together, they are the more than 20 people killed in homicides this year in Tampa. Their deaths are the most visible element of the alarming surge in violence scarring the city in 2015.

Police and city leaders have struggled to explain its causes. With last week's shooting death of 14-year-old Edward "E.J." Harris, talk has turned to gangs and the prevalence of a no-snitching culture.

Answers and solutions are hard to pin down. But a look at the cases and their circumstances reveals a few clear patterns.

With one exception, all of the people killed were men. Almost all were black. Almost all were killed in poor, inner-city areas, with several clustered in east Tampa and Sulphur Springs.

The official tally from the Tampa Police Department stands at 18 homicides. That compares to 10 at this time last year. If you include cases deemed accidental or ruled self-defense, the number of deaths jumps to 22.

Twelve remain open with no arrests. But police say they have persons of interest in all but four.

They are investigated by the Tampa police homicide unit, where 10 detectives work sometimes for seven days straight, analyzing crime scenes, reviewing witness statements and ultimately trying to build enough evidence to land a criminal charge.

"To me, there is no bigger crime," said Chuck Massucci, the sergeant in charge of the unit. "If you have too many lives being taken, you have segments of the community that live in fear. And thus, they're giving up some of their freedoms."

While alarming, this year's toll is not a record. In 2003, there were 41 homicides, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. Before that, during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980's, the numbers rose as high as 86.

The roots of this year's increase are various. Nationwide, other cities have reported similar increases in violent crime. Massucci believes guns, and an undercurrent of drug sales, are at the heart of many homicide cases.

"I think there is a comfort level with kids having guns on them," Massucci said. "I think that's the number one issue."

But every case is different.

Some of those killed were not innocents. Robi Vancol died May 15 after he was injured while committing a home invasion robbery, according to police. Anton Fisher pointed a gun at a man during an argument only to have the man return fire.

But others were killed for seemingly no reason at all. Jamylin Turner, a sophomore at Gaither High School, was gunned down while playing basketball with friends. Richard Newton, 14, was shot when a fight broke out at a neighborhood birthday party.

All are considered homicides. And all are presented here as a visual representation of the violence in Tampa, and a reminder of the human cost of crime.

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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