Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct inaccurate information. Due to our misinterpretation of documents provided by the JSO, in the print edition of this story we misstated the dispositions of cases denoted herein by asterisks. The cases of William Laird, whom we said was listed as a suspect in the death of Ronald Gregory; Antwann Hogan, whom we said was charged with the killing of Ronald Morris; Danielle Mystkowski, whom we said was arrested for killing Garrette McCoy; and Jodey Vining, whom we said was charged with murder in death of Cecil Scalf, have all been ruled justifiable homicides. We regret the errors.
In its 2013 Quality of Life Progress Report, Jacksonville Community Council Inc. revealed a curious data point: Even though the city’s overall crime rate was at its lowest level in at least three decades, the percentage of people who said they felt safe in their neighborhoods dropped 5 percentage points, to 61 percent, from the previous year.
You see this fear emanating from the 6 o’clock news, where there’s always a story about a shooting or a stabbing or some predator on the loose. You see it in the newspaper headlines that scream about these almost-routine mass-murder horrors, and from politicians wringing their hands about a seemingly intractable problem. You see all this even though, across the country, violent crime numbers are dropping rather precipitously — down 5.4 percent in the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period a year earlier, according to FBI data released earlier this year — a trend that has persisted, with some bumps along the way, for nearly a quarter-century.
And yet we don’t believe it.
Maybe we shouldn’t — at least not in Duval County. In the last few years, even as the city’s overall crime rate has dropped, and even as the national murder rate has declined, Jacksonville’s death toll has ticked up: 71 murders in 2011, 93 in 2012, 94 in 2013.
This year is on track to be even bloodier. As of June 3, according to data provided by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, there have been 39 murders in Jacksonville, 11 more than in the same period last year. (There was another one on June 7, bringing the total to 40 as of this writing.) The number of homicides — a broader category comprising both murders and “justified” killings — now stands at 50, also about a 20 percent increase over the first five months of 2013.
But numbers are just that, numbers: useful, maybe a little scary, but superficial. We wanted the stories behind the numbers, a sense of not just how many people are dying, but why. It’s easy to blame drugs or gangs or guns — and certainly those things often play a role — but as you’ll see from the vignettes below, that’s not the whole picture. There are lovers’ quarrels, Facebook rows, fights over barbecue, careless drug-addled mothers — sometimes seemingly random, sometimes stupid, oftentimes utterly senseless.
The following narratives are drawn from police reports and news coverage. These are the stories of the first 50 homicides in the River City in 2014, of suspects and victims, of bad people and unfortunate people and reckless people and people who just made terrible, terrible decisions.
1: KENDRA NAGY
Died Jan. 3, 4630 Sunderland Road
Nagy’s friends found the 33-year-old dead on her bedroom floor a day after she had an argument with her live-in boyfriend, Michael Joseph Day, 45, at Overtime Sports Bar, where Nagy worked (though she was off that night). After the argument, Nagy asked a female friend to drive her home to get away from Day. Day followed, and arrived at the house at the same time. Later that night, Nagy texted her friend with messages that led her friend to suspect she was in danger. When Nagy didn’t show up for work the next day, the friend and others went to Nagy’s house to investigate, and Day showed them Nagy’s body. The witnesses told the cops that Day appeared to have been beaten in the face, but investigators later determined the injury was from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Day was charged with murder while recuperating in the hospital.
2 and 3: EMANUAL ROBINSON and LATRICIA BRIANNA JOHNSON
Died Jan. 4, 1591 Lane Ave. S.
Robinson and Johnson, both 21, were found shot dead in their apartment. Another woman suffered life-threatening injuries but survived; she identified Keith Collins Jr., 24, as the shooter. The survivor told police Collins and Robinson got into an argument over sleeping arrangements. Collins wanted to sleep on the mattress Robinson was sleeping on; when he refused, Collins got a handgun and shot him multiple times, killing him. Collins then shot the surviving woman several times; she told police that Collins got another handgun from the top of a bedroom dresser and left the room. She heard several more gunshots from another area of the apartment. Police say Johnson was trying to escape through a back patio door when she was shot numerous times. She jumped through the screen and landed on a neighbor’s patio, where she died. Collins was arrested Jan. 5.
4: HENRY UNDERWOOD
Died Jan. 4, 7101 Wilson Blvd.
Underwood, 57, was found dead of a gunshot wound inside his apartment; his daughter suffered a gunshot wound but survived. On Jan. 7, police arrested the daughter’s boyfriend, Toddrick Nelson Lee, 20, after interviewing the daughter, with whom Lee had two children. Underwood and his daughter lived in the home along with Underwood’s wife, who wasn’t home when the shootings occurred. Lee lived elsewhere.
5: JOSHUA ANDREW HEINZ
Died Jan. 5, 11009 Santa Fe St. N.
According to witnesses, several people were watching football at Heinz’s house when the 31-year-old got into an argument with Alvin Welch, 35, about the way Welch was slicing barbecue and how much he was trying to take home with him. Heinz asked Welch to leave. Welch allegedly responded by grabbing a bat and striking Heinz in the head. The victim died at UF Health. Welch was arrested Jan. 8.
6: JUAN LEON SHANKS
Died Jan. 6, 1152 Alta Vista St.
Shanks, 25, was found fatally shot in a ditch, the victim of a drive-by. The police were looking for a white car that had been in the area. The JSO provided no additional information on this case, and has made no arrests.
7: LATOSHA DENISE JOYCE
Died Jan. 9, 3507 Rio Grande Ave.
Marcus Earl Gray, 44, arrived at UF Shands with his girlfriend, Joyce, 38, just after midnight. She was already dead. Gray told police he and Joyce were inside his semi at a truck stop on Rio Grande Avenue when they got into a physical argument. He said he shoved Joyce out of the cab and she fell to the ground, landing on her back. He drove away, but returned and found Joyce unresponsive, put her in his truck and drove to his home, then placed her in another vehicle and took her to the hospital. Gray was arrested a few days later, after an autopsy determined that Joyce was struck by a motor vehicle, though Gray denied he hit her with his truck. Police say Gray has a previous record of domestic violence, though not involving Joyce.
8: HUNTER LAWENDOSKI
Died Jan. 14, 1800 Edgewood Ave. N.
Hunter, only 3 months old, was pronounced dead at the hospital after he ingested oxycodone, methadone and Xanax, substances police say belonged to his mother, Jamie Pearl Jones, 27. They charged her with murder on March 31.
9: ROBERT GLENN HUCKS
Died Jan. 16, 2115 College St.
Hucks, 20, from Lawrenceville, Georgia, went missing after a night at Metro Night Club. Hunters in Camden County, Georgia, found Hucks’ body on Jan. 29; the next day, police charged Jeremy Christian Pittman, 34, with his murder. The cops say the two went to Pittman’s home after leaving Metro; they argued, Hucks tried to leave, and was killed that night.
10: DEREK RASHAD JOHNSON
Died Jan. 24, 1660 Prudential Drive
Johnson, 27, was found shot to death in a parking lot following an after-hours party at Building 500. No arrests have been made.