GARY — Justice.
It won't heal the pain of losing a child to violence, but it could deliver some sense of closure.
The families of three young people — each riddled with bullets in July while out celebrating a birthday — want justice. They fear the Gary Police Department lacks the manpower and resources to solve the case.
Someone knows who killed their children. And they're pleading for anyone with information to come forward.
"If people have information, let the police know," said Aundra Edwards, whose son Nicholas Edwards was killed in the July triple homicide. "That is no more than a mother should be able to ask."
Darius Ross, 28, of Gary, and his fiancee, Heather Talley, 27, of Hammond, went out to celebrate Ross' birthday. After dropping off others after a night out, they picked up their friend Edwards, 28, of Gary, to continue the celebration.
By morning, Talley had been shot dead and dumped along the 2500 block of Central Avenue, not far from Ross' home in the Marshalltown neighborhood on Gary's east side.
Police found Ross' and Edwards' bodies inside Ross' car, which had been abandoned in the area of West Ninth Avenue and Harrison Street. Someone had reported the car as suspicious.
"They were shot so many times," said Diana Graczyk, Talley's mother. "The street knows. People know. ... How many other people is this person hurting or killing?"
'How could this happen?'
Dennis Ross, Darius' father, said he often can't sleep at night.
"I get up and think, 'How could this happen?'" he said. "I lost my dad. It's a different type of feeling when you lose a child."
Gary recorded 40 homicides in 2018. That number was down from 48 homicides in 2017, but still accounted for about 58 percent of all homicides in Lake County last year.
Talley, Ross and Edwards were among four people found dead July 15.
Charges have been filed in the fourth person's death. Their case was the only triple homicide in Gary last year.
Lake County prosecutors have filed charges in 11 Gary cases, and three more have been presented for possible charges, police Cmdr. Jack Hamady said. Two more cases were police-involved shootings deemed justified or expected to be deemed justified.
If charges are filed in pending cases, the total number cleared in 2018 would be 16, or about 40 percent of all homicides, Hamady said.
That solve rate is unfortunate, he said.
'Give us time'
Victims' families often want to know what's going on in their loved one's cases. They feel like nothing is happening, Hamady acknowledged.
"We can't really tell them," he said. "There have been times when we say, 'Give us time. We have a significant player in jail and he might have information.'"
That's the strategy: Identify individuals linked to gangs, drugs and violence and target them. Stop them for traffic violations. Take every contact they have with any law enforcement agency seriously.
"The more significant charges you get, you start putting people behind bars," Hamady said. "They don't want to do serious time. You say, 'I'm a group member for life. And now I'm not going to see my kids for something (others) are responsible for.' So they start talking and giving up vital information."
The strategy is part of the Gary for Life initiative, which was implemented in 2015.
Another piece to the puzzle is the Lake County/Gary Metro Homicide Unit, which includes five detectives who are on call 24/7, 365 days a year. Last year, the unit investigated 38 homicides in Gary and 20 other deaths.
Homicide investigations can be intricate and require hundreds of hours of detectives' time, Hamady said.
"I don't think we have 40 killers here," Hamady said, as he reviewed 2018 statistics.
In many cases, the killer may be responsible for multiple fatal and/or nonfatal shootings.
"If you take him out of the mix, your (homicide) rate is going to drop," he said.
Police conducted three enforcement actions on different groups last year, identifying about 60 people believed to be driving violence in Gary, he said. During two of those enforcement actions, police contacted 316 people, arrested 137 of them, secured 168 individual charges and five federal indictments, served 59 warrants and recovered 44 guns.
'Too many cases'
Still, Aundra Edwards, Diana Graczyk and Dennis Ross fear Gary police do not have enough resources to fully investigate their children's homicides.
"I have so many questions. They can't give me answers," Graczyk said, adding she didn't want to bash police but knows they're busy and underfunded.
In December, the city administration asked the Gary Police Department to reduce its budget by about $1 million — to $10.7 million from council-approved spending levels of $11.69 million.
The cut could lead to slower response times, officers resorting to “reactive” instead of “proactive” patrolling, and detectives being asked to handle unmanageable caseloads for homicides and shootings, Gary FOP Lodge 61 President Terry Peck said.
Ross said his son was a good kid who had no enemies.
"They don't have enough people on the case," he said. "They have too many cases."
Aundra Edwards said she has watched as police swiftly arrested and charged a suspect in the Hobart Walmart shooting and an 18-year-old's homicide in Griffith. She's watched, and she's wondered why the investigation of her son's triple homicide seems to have stalled.
Edwards, a nurse for 33 years, said it's hard to go to work for 12 hours a day and save lives when someone has taken her child's life.
"There are people in my life that I interact with every day that don't know I suffered this tragedy," she said. "It was months before I could even tell some of my closet friends that my child was even gone. I couldn't even speak the words."