MIDVALE — The first three months of 2019 have been one of the most violent in Utah in at least two decades.
As of Monday, there were 24 homicides in the state during January, February and so far in March, according to statistics kept by the Deseret News. It's the highest number of homicides Utah has seen during the first three months of any year dating back to at least when the state Bureau of Criminal Identification began posting comprehensive crime statistics online.
And that number could rise to at least 25 homicides so far this year. Police on Monday said they now believe a March 17 shooting death in Midvale that was initially believed to be a suicide is now considered to be "suspicious."
Prior to this year, the highest number of homicides for the first three months of a year in Utah was in 1998 when the bureau recorded 15.
There were 11 homicides in Utah during the first three months of 2018 and a total of 78 for the year.
Several homicides in Utah this year have involved teenagers, young adults and drugs. Some examples:
- Mason Hunt, 26, of Salt Lake City, was shot and killed Jan. 12 after confronting three men and a 16-year-old boy who had broken into his home to steal drugs and other items from his roommate, according to court records.
- Marquez Grajeda, 15, of West Valley City, was shot and killed inside a home on Feb. 5 while on a lunch break from school. A 14-year-old boy who was allegedly playing with a gun when it went off is charged with manslaughter in his death.
- Kameron Johnson, 18, of Ogden, was shot and killed on Feb. 11 and his brother, Eric Johnson Jr., 20, was shot and critically injured when two men allegedly invaded their home to steal drugs. Theron Farmer, 23, and Daniel Ross Viegas-Gonzalez, 28, are both charged with aggravated murder.
- Jerrad Jacobsen, 16, of Kearns, was shot and killed inside a bedroom in his house on March 18. The shooting was initially believed to be accidental, but three days after the incident, police arrested Jerrad's 15-year-old stepbrother in the death.
- South Jordan real estate agent David Stokoe, 40, was shot and killed in Salt Lake City on Jan. 18 during an altercation over rent with tenants suspected of using drugs, according to police. Officers found his body hidden in a crawl space. Manuel Velasquez, 31, of South Salt Lake, is charged with murdering him.
The numbers could have been even higher due to a confrontation between rival gang members outside Fashion Place Mall in January that resulted in two people being shot and critically injured.
Likewise, two people were shot and injured March 16 at the Chelsea Park Apartments, 7351 S. Catalpa St. (440 West), during an alleged drug robbery of a marijuana dealer.
Unified police detectives announced Monday that they are taking a closer look at the death of a 20-year-old man whose body was found in the parking lot of a recreational center in Midvale.
Police responded to a report of a shooting at the Copperview Recreational Center, 8446 S. Harrison Street, near a skate park, on March 17. A man was found dead inside a pickup truck.
Originally, the death was believed to be a suicide. But now, Unified police detective Ken Hansen said the death has been classified as "suspicious" as investigators give it another look. Detectives want to question the driver and any possible occupants of a black Nissan Altima spotted in surveillance video that was in the area of the skate park at the time of the shooting, he said.
Detectives weren't calling the man's death a homicide on Monday, Hansen said. They just want to talk to potential witnesses "to make sure they didn't miss anything."
Anyone with information about the car or the shooting is asked to call police at 801-743-7000.
As has been the case in previous years, many of this year's homicides so far have been the result of domestic violence. Some examples:
- Ashley Vigil, 26, of Salt Lake City, was found dead of stab wounds on Jan. 15 in South Salt Lake. Her boyfriend, Angelo Terry Kirstine, 24, is charged with murdering her.
- A 4-month-old boy was found dead on Jan. 25 in a Midvale motel room. His parents, Jose Ramirez, 21, and Jessica Lujan, 20, are charged with child abuse homicide.
- Two days later, on Jan. 27, Travis Geddes, 30, and Sarah Hawley, 27, of Salt Lake City, were found dead in their Sugar House home. Investigators believe Geddes killed Hawley and then took his own life.
- A 7-year-old boy died Feb. 27, two days after allegedly being found unresponsive in the shower at his Sandy house. His mother, Reyna Elizabeth Flores-Rosales, 30, is charged with aggravated murder.
There have also been at least two fatal shootings involving confrontations between former boyfriends and current boyfriends, according to police.
In some of this year's killings, police are still searching for motives.5 comments on this story
On March 12, Maureen Fiore, 36, was shot and killed inside her Sandy home and her husband was critically injured. As of Monday, police were still looking for a suspect.
On March 21, Ray Paul Willie Vasquez, 40, who was recently paroled from prison, was shot and killed while sitting in his car in the parking lot of Maverik, 7720 S. Main. Jose Luis Garcia, 24, the alleged gunman with no known criminal history, died after leading police on a chase that ended when he shot himself and his car rolled onto the fields at Peruvian Park Elementary School.