Seven people killed in less than six months. In the first half of 2019, Daviess County’s seven murder victims have already more than doubled last year’s total count of three.
As both Owensboro Police Department and Daviess County Sheriff’s Office continue to investigate these incidents, both agencies said there is no easy answer to why the shootings are happening.
DCSO recently arrested a 17-year-old juvenile suspect in a double homicide that killed 16-year-old Amarius Winstead and 18-year-old Jasper Brown. OPD is currently working its fifth homicide of the year — a shooting that killed 25-year-old Nick Decker on Sunday morning.
Owensboro had three homicides last year, five in 2017, one in both 2016 and 2015, and zero from 2012-2014. This year marks the highest number of homicides over the last 16 years of OPD’s history.
While DCSO Sheriff Keith Cain admits drug activity likely plays a role in many of the shootings, he also said there’s no clear, concise answer as to why violent crime has risen in the area.
“If you’re looking for me to tell you why, I and anyone else, can’t do that,” Cain said. “Violence begets violence — it’s a biblical concept that’s as real today as it was 2,000 years ago.”
Cain said because Owensboro is known as a safe community, the homicide statistics are “alarming” for those living in the area and experiencing the surge of violent crime. He said it’s easy to overlook that Owensboro continues to be a safe city in comparison to other cities of its size.
“Percentage-wise, if you go from one to two [shootings], that’s a 100 percent increase,” Cain said. “A loss of life is totally unacceptable, but the [homicide] numbers are still relatively low.”
Like Cain, OPD Public Information Officer Andrew Boggess said the answer to this surge in violence isn’t easy to define.
According to OPD and DCSO, it can be frustrating for law enforcement to hear complaints from citizens who expect officers and deputies to prevent these shootings from happening, and to apprehend the suspects immediately after a shooting happens. Both Cain and Boggess said it’s difficult to prevent violent crime before it happens, and building a case properly before making an arrest can make or break the case when it goes to court.
“We’d like to have no homicides, obviously, and we’d like to keep the violence to a minimum,” Boggess said. “Our role is to solve the crime after it happens, to solve these homicides and bring the perpetrators to justice after it’s happened. We solved the triple homicide very quickly. We charged a suspect in the Kevin White homicide, and we’ve named another one. We’re working non-stop to try and resolve this most recent homicide early as well.”
While no motive has been publicly determined for most of these cases, Cain and Boggess said drugs remain a problem in the area, possibly perpetuating the violent activity that’s ensued.
“We’re not immune to the causation of violence, whether it be drugs, poverty, domestic issues,” Cain said.
Cain said when people move from larger metropolitan areas to a place like Owensboro — where the population is high enough to circulate drugs, gang territory hasn’t been claimed and violent crime is relatively low — it can create the perfect storm for potentially dangerous people and situations.
“The difference here is, for the most part, citizens can trust law enforcement to keep them safe,” Cain said. “Those of us who make a living doing this — we take it very seriously. We all think about these things today and everyday.”
Boggess said each case is unique, and that none of them abide by a central motive or intent. Overall, though, gang activity remains low, while drug activity in Owensboro remains prevalent.
“Owensboro has also grown — with that growth, there’s growth in all aspects,” Boggess said.
Cain said no case DCSO works on is given priority over the other. Working with a highly efficient but understaffed team presents challenges for DCSO, but Cain said he knows the heart and effort his deputies put into solving these crimes.
“My job is to ensure the deputies have the training and the equipment to do their job as well as they possibly can,” Cain said. “These investigations drag out for months, years. It’s not indicative of law enforcement not working on it fast enough. We worry about [the violence continuing] every day. Over the last week, retaliation [from the Whitesville shooting] has been a major concern of ours. It’s a very, very real concern.”