Spike in Charlotte teen homicide numbers puzzles investigators

GoFundMe page of Taylor Smith
GoFundMe page of Taylor Smith

When police found Kevin Ruben Marquez in the breezeway of an apartment complex off Central Avenue on Wednesday night, the year’s puzzling body count of youthful victims in Charlotte ticked higher.

Marquez, 19, killed by a gunshot, became the city’s fifth teenage or child homicide victim of the young year. Those five young victims compared to two homicide victims 19 or younger by this time last year. Nine teens and children were murdered in all of 2016.

This year’s unusually high number of young victims is part of an overall increase in Charlotte homicides. Twenty-seven have been reported so far this year, compared to 13 through April 7 of last year.

The 68 total homicides in 2016 marked a 30 percent increase over the five-year average.

Two other Charlotte teens have been killed outside the city in recent days.

Last Saturday, Marco Antonio Pablo Eleocadio, 19, was found dead along a rural road south of Hickory, his face bruised and swollen. On Monday, Taylor Sotera Smith, 14, was shot multiple times in a Mount Holly park. Investigators have two teen suspects in Smith’s killing, both from Charlotte.

Lt. Alex Watson, who leads the homicide and missing-persons unit at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, said he can’t discern a trend in the number of youth victims so far this year.

“The circumstances are all different,” he said. “It’s hard to really put a finger on what the root cause of these incidents were.”

The two-year spike in Charlotte homicides stands out because North Carolina murder rates have for years been trending down. State Bureau of Investigations data show that arrests of North Carolina juveniles for violent crime dropped 45 percent between 2006 and 2015.

Charlotte investigators are still scratching their heads, despite a massive effort, over the death of the year’s first young victim. Anthony Lee Frazier, 14, the athletic, churchgoing son of a Kannapolis police officer, was sitting in a car outside a relative’s home when he was shot Jan. 3.

“You just have to wonder what the motive was in that case,” Watson said. “Was it fear? Was it an intent to kill?”

The mother of 3-month-old Majestic Kincaid Bush was charged with his murder, and felony child neglect, in January.

Watson said the Feb. 19 shooting death of Christian Isaac Allen, 18, an East Mecklenburg High football player, was “not a random act” at a south Charlotte house party gone awry. Carlos Olguin, 22, who police say had argued with Allen, was charged with murder.

The suspect and victim in the March 22 shooting death of Tyshaud Nikese Brown, 18, knew each other, Watson said. Brown’s body was found near a baseball field behind Allenbrook Elementary School. A 15-year-old suspect was charged with murder on Friday.

Other homicides in Charlotte this year have followed interactions that more predictably result in violence, often behind closed doors: Drugs were involved in four cases, arguments in four, domestic violence in eight, robbery in three and four had unknown causes.

“The circumstances are literally all over the place,” Watson said, with few homicides that appear random.

Charlotte’s spike in homicides will be the focus of Friday’s annual Youth Violence Prevention Conference sponsored by Carolinas Medical Center and the Charlotte Area Health Education Center (AHEC). Most seats for the day-long conference at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church have been taken, but registration is open online.

The conference won’t touch specifically on youth violence. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people between the ages of 10 and 24 have the nation’s highest rates of violence and homicides.

“My suspicion is that our experience here reflects what people see nationally,” said Dr. David Jacobs, medical director of CMC’s Ross Trauma Center and chairman of the hospital’s violence prevention committee.

Spikes in homicides, he said, may be explained by reasons unique to each city that has seen increases, from Chicago to Baltimore. Among potential causes: a lack of economic opportunity, the subject of ongoing scrutiny in Charlotte; the opioid epidemic; and the “Ferguson effect” of police disengagement following racial unrest in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender