SALT LAKE CITY — A disturbing number of children and young adults were victims of Utah homicides during 2017.
Equally disturbing is the number of children and young adults who are accused of committing those killings.
A total of 80 people died as a result of homicide — the killing of one human being at the hands of another — in Utah during 2017, according to statistics kept by the Deseret News. That number is down from 2016's record setting tally of 90, and falls more in line with the 79 killed in 2014 and 73 from 2015.
Of those 80 homicides, more than a quarter of the victims were 21 or younger. Of that group, nine children were just 6 years old or younger. The youngest homicide victim of 2017 was only 13 days old.
At least 16 people accused of committing the 2017 homicides are also 21 or younger. And that doesn't count the cases in which police have yet to make arrests, including some where teenagers are suspected of being involved. At least 15 other suspects in last year's homicides are between the ages of 22 and 26.
Shootings surpassed all other methods of death by far again in 2017. Guns were used in at least 54 of the year's homicides — or 68 percent. But for cases involving victims between the ages of 14 and 21, a gun was used in all but one.
While more than two-thirds of the victims were shot to death, seven people died by stabbing, six died from abuse, four from assault.
Police officers shot and killed six people during 2017. That's down from nine in 2016, 10 in 2015 and 14 in 2014.
And in at least 31 of the homicide cases, family members are suspected of the killings.
The Deseret News does not count automobile homicides, which usually stem from drunken drivers, in its statistics. However, four of this year's homicides were the result of car crashes that ended in murder charges being filed.
West S.L. County
Salt Lake County's west side had a particularly violent year for youth crime.
The Unified Police Department conducted 13 homicide investigations in its jurisdiction in 2017, resulting in 15 deaths. All but two of those cases happened in the Kearns-Magna-Taylorsville area. Some examples:
• The latest occurred Sunday when officers discovered the bodies of 9-year-old Madison Clark and her mother, Karina Clark, 41. Police believe the mother shot her daughter, then turned the gun on herself. They had been dead for a week and possibly longer.
• Will Ryan, 17, was standing in front of his Magna house in August when he was killed during a drive-by shooting. The alleged driver, who was 17 at the time, is charged with murder. Witnesses say he turned off his headlights and drove slowly past Ryan's house as two males with handguns and a third male with a shotgun fired six to 10 shots out the windows.
• An engaged couple, Tami Lynn Woodard, 50, and Lloyd Everett Pace, 55, both of Kearns, were killed in September when a group who police say had just committed a drive-by shooting and were fleeing the scene slammed into their vehicle. Four documented gang members ranging in age from 17 to 24 are charged with double murder.
In West Valley City, nine people were killed as a result of homicide. Like neighboring Taylorsville, Kearns and Magna, police investigated several cases involving teens and young adults, including:
• Fernando Aranda, 16, of Kearns, was shot and killed following an argument between two groups of people in May. There have been no arrests made and no suspects named in his death. That shooting came four hours after a 15-year-old boy was shot in the abdomen. The boy survived his injuries.
• Romeo Rodriguez, 14, of Salt Lake City, was shot and killed in August while sitting in the back seat of a pickup truck with several others when the group encountered a trio of young men on bicycles. An 18-year-old man is charged with murder. Police say the two sides were rival gang members and one group was in the rival gang's territory.
Following the deaths of Woodward and Pace, angry residents filled the auditorium of Kearns High School for a town hall meeting with Sheriff Rosie Rivera and other officials to address the spike in violence in the Kearns area.
Unified Police Lt. Brian Lohrke said the Metro Gang Unit was very busy over the summer on Salt Lake County's west side. He said gangs and drugs played a role in many cases. But what detectives also noticed is that a number of juveniles who officers are coming in contact with are the children of people whom officers dealt with in the early 2000s.
"These are their kids now running around," Lohrke said.
The spike in violence and juvenile activity can be attributed as much to a "generational thing" as much as anything else, he said.
"It's really sad. As much as we try to intervene with our outreach programs, it won't have the same influence or have a stronger hold than your family members," Lohrke said.
What can be done to break that trend is the "magic question," he said.
Similar to what was said at the Kearns town hall, Lohrke said it has to be a community effort to change the generational pattern of violence. The problem won't be solved by "throwing handcuffs on people," he said.
Juvenile recidivism rates are high, Lohrke said. And in many cases, being sent to juvenile detention is a right of passage for teenagers because they're being sent to a place where they'll find "their same group that got them in trouble in the first place."
He encouraged "anybody who has influence over that child at a young age" to get involved, whether that is a teacher, community leader, clergy member or even a neighbor. Lohrke said a solution needs to be found now, because it isn't unreasonable to assume the current group of teens being arrested will start becoming parents themselves in the next five to six years.
Youth crime was not restricted to Salt Lake County during 2017. Some examples:
• Hunter Woodson, 19, was shot and killed by a 15-year-old in Sunset, police say, when Woodsen tried to sell him spices instead of marijuana during a drug deal in November.
• The one homicide investigation involving a teenage victim in 2017 that was not the result of a shooting was the shocking death of 16-year-old Jchandra Brown, of Spanish Fork. She took her life by hanging, but investigators say she wouldn't have been successful without the assistance from an 18-year-old friend who watched her die and recorded it on her cellphone. He is charged with murder.
Salt Lake City had 13 homicides during 2017, according to the Deseret News statistics.
In July, Salt Lake City had a rash of violent episodes around the homeless shelter, including three homicides in nine days. That rash of violence prompted the implementation of Operation Rio Grande, a multiyear, multiagency effort to rid the area around the homeless shelter of drugs and deter the throngs of people who camped on the street every night.
Domestic violence was once again the biggest contributor to homicides in 2017. At least 31 of the year's killings were committed by a family member or partner.
Tragically, nine victims were 6 years old or younger. Four of those victims ranged from 13 days old to 1 year. Drugs also played some part in at least several of those deaths.
• Archer Sullivan was just 13 days old when investigators say he died of severe abuse in September. His mother and boyfriend are charged with murder. Each has accused the other of using heroin daily.
• Baylie Rutherford was 17 months old when police say she died of abuse in September. She had been taken from her parents by the state as a newborn because of drug use, but was returned to the home shortly before her death, charges say. The mother is charged with aggravated murder and the father charged with obstruction justice.
• Hudson Nokes was just 7 weeks old when she died. His father, 19, is charged with aggravated murder, accused of throwing the infant.
In addition to young victims, a series of violent domestic confrontations that played out in very public places over the course of 22-days over the summer caused some to question current laws regarding restraining orders.
• Memorez Rackley, 39, and her 6-year-old son, Jase, were shot and killed in June in their Sandy neighborhood by Jeremy Patterson, 32, as children were walking home from school. Rackley's 11-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter of a woman who attempted to help the family were also shot but survived. Rackley had reportedly tried to break off her relationship with Patterson, who had made threatening social media posts.
• Fransiska Dastrup, 49, rammed her car head-on into the vehicle of Richelle Horsley, 47, before getting out and shooting the woman multiple times in June. Dastrup then shot herself. Police say the pair had a history of domestic violence and were in the process of separating.
• Jill Lloyd, 36, of West Jordan, was shot and killed that same month while sitting in her car at a busy intersection. The gunman was later found dead near Dugway of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Friends say the two had a child many years earlier but were still involved in a custody dispute.2 comments on this story
• In November, Timothy Griffith, 45, shot his wife, Jessica Griffith, 42, his stepdaughter, Samantha Badel, 16, and his son, Alexandre Griffith, 5, in their Mapleton home before shooting himself. He also killed the family dog. The family had only lived in Utah for four months.
Help for people in abusive relationships can be found by contacting the YWCA's Women in Jeopardy program at 801-537-8600, or the confidential statewide Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-897-LINK (5465). Resources are also available online at udvc.org.
Contributing: McKenzie Romero