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With latest CSRA shootings, 2-state region is seeing no relief from spike in slayings

Published: Jun. 14, 2021 at 8:59 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 11:22 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A surge in violent crimes continues to be felt in the CSRA, where two people were injured in a shooting and two people were killed over the weekend.

Elsewhere, mass shootings claimed lives in Savannah, Chicago and Austin, Texas.

Many hoped that a spike in U.S. shootings and homicides last year was an aberration perhaps caused by pandemic-related stress amid a rise in gun ownership and debate over policing.

Now the fear is that the spike could continue into summer as coronavirus restrictions ease and more people are free to socialize.

Across the CSRA

Here’s what happened over the weekend:

Even before a wave of violence over the weekend, crime was spiking across the CSRA.

We looked into it a couple of weeks ago and found out crime isn’t just going back to how it was before the pandemic.

It’s actually much higher.

In Richmond County we’ve seen almost as many shootings in five months this year as we did in all of 2019. We spoke to a Richmond County sheriff’s deputy, and he believes its because the restrictions are easing.

“I think everybody’s been pent up for so long, now people have gotten out, people are becoming a little bit more excitable,” said Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton, Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

Clayton expects this surge to continue throughout the summer.

“I think what you’re gonna see is especially probably through the summer months it will be kind of high and then you’ll see it start to level out,” he said.

Across the region

The weekend crime wave wasn’t limited to the CSRA:

  • In Savannah, police said one man was killed and seven other people were wounded in a mass shooting Friday evening, police said. Two of the wounded are children — an 18-month-old and a 13-year-old. Savannah’s police chief, Roy Minter, Jr., said the shooting may be linked to an ongoing dispute between two groups, citing reports of gunshots being fired at the same apartment complex earlier in the week. “It’s very disturbing what we’re seeing across the country and the level of gun violence that we’re seeing across the country,” he said. “It’s disturbing and it’s senseless.”
  • In the Atlanta area, a shooting around 8:30 p.m. Sunday left a security guard with critical injuries at the Lenox Square Mall in Buckhead. When officers got there, they found the security guard had been shot in his chest. Police say they have arrested a 15-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl.
  • In Columbus, police on Saturday arrested Justin Tyran Roberts, who was wanted for three shootings in less than 24 hours across Georgia and Alabama. Officials say it all began Friday night in Phenix City in Alabama when a person was shot outside a hotel. Then police say Roberts traveled to Columbus, Ga., where he allegedly shot three people outside a restaurant. Officers say he then shot one more person in Columbus the next day. Roberts is set to appear in court today.
  • In Acworth, police killed a man suspected of shooting a Georgia officer following a search that involved multiple law enforcement agencies. A Cobb County officer responded to a domestic dispute in Acworth on Sunday afternoon. Police say a man, who wasn’t immediately identified, pulled out a gun and started shooting. Sgt. Wayne Delk says the officer was shot point blank in the chest but was wearing a bullet-proof vest. The officer was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening.

What’s behind the rise in violence?

Like in the CSRA, homicide rates across the country are higher than they were in pre-pandemic times. That includes in cities that refused to slash police spending following the death of George Floyd and those that made modest cuts.

Just over the weekend, mass shootings took place in the Texas capital of Austin, where 14 people were wounded, and Chicago, where a woman was killed and nine other people were wounded.

“There was a hope this might simply be a statistical blip that would start to come down,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. “That hasn’t happened. And that’s what really makes chiefs worry that we may be entering a new period where we will see a reversal of 20 years of declines in these crimes.”

Tracking ups and downs in crime is always complicated, but violent crime commonly increases in the summer months. Weekend evenings and early-morning hours also are common windows for shootings.

Many types of crime did decline in 2020 and have stayed lower this year, suggesting the pandemic and the activism and unrest spurred by the reaction to Floyd’s death didn’t lead to an overall spike in crime.

According to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University, only three mass shootings occurred at public places — the lowest total for that category in a decade — out of 19 total mass shootings in 2020.

The database tracks all mass killings including shootings, defined as four or more people dead not including the perpetrator.

According to that definition, there have been 17 mass killings, 16 of those shootings, already this year, said James Alan Fox, a criminologist and professor at Northeastern University.

The Gun Violence Archive, which monitors media and police reports to track gun violence, defines mass shootings as those involving four or more people who were shot, regardless of whether they died. Overall, according to its database, more than 8,700 people have died of gun violence in the U.S. this year.

The GVA also found that mass shootings spiked in 2020 to about 600, which was higher than in any of the previous six years it tracked the statistic. According to this year’s count, there have been at least 267 mass shootings in the U.S. so far, including the latest three overnight Friday into Saturday.

“It’s worrisome,” Fox said. “We have a blend of people beginning to get out and about in public. We have lots of divisiveness. And we have more guns and warm weather. It’s a potentially deadly mix.”

From reports by WRDW/WAGT and The Associated Press.