GARY — A mother and her teenage son, gunned down as he tried to hide behind a bedroom door.
Three members of the same family, all killed in separate homicides within one week.
A 14-year-old boy struck down by a stray bullet while walking from a barbershop. A 16-year-old boy shot while trying to sell his Xbox. A 4-year-old boy fatally shot while in bed with his mother.
Violence in Gary claimed more lives in 2019 than in each of the 11 years before.
Ask any family, and not one of those killed last year deserved to die — not for their mistakes or transgressions, and not because someone else started shooting without any regard for life.
“I don’t blame God. I blame people with guns,” said Margaret Rubalcava, grandmother to Ashley Miranda, who was killed Oct. 3 when someone in a white SUV opened fire on the car in which she was riding in the 7100 block of West Fifth Avenue in Gary.
Miranda, 26, was the 41st homicide victim in Gary in 2019, data shows.
In all, the city recorded 58 homicides, up 45% from 40 in 2018. It’s the highest number of homicides logged since 2007, when 71 homicides were reported, FBI data shows.
Police responded to a total of 123 shootings in 2019, 106 of which involved a victim who survived and 17 that were self-inflicted, Cmdr. Jack Hamady said.
Of the 58 homicides, police think 12 were gang-related. The number of gang-related homicides was down about 50%, from 18 of the 40 slayings in 2018, Hamady said.
Domestic homicides rose by about 87%, from eight in 2018 to 15 in 2019. That number includes Sidne-Nichole Buchanan, 27, whose boyfriend was charged with killing her in Gary after a concert July 27 and dumping her body in a Cook County forest preserve.
In another domestic abuse case that claimed three members of the same family, Nefretiri Jones, 52, Yoasha Carter, 25, and Dwayne Jones, 33, all of Gary, were found shot to death after a fire at their home Oct. 25 in the 3500 block of West 20th Avenue. Yoasha Carter’s boyfriend, Reginald Carter, 31, pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder and one count of arson.
Seven homicides during the first quarter of 2019 are believed to be drug-related and involve a single person of interest, police said.
In all, 14 of the 58 homicides last year likely were drug-related, Hamady said. Police think four were motivated by robbery.
Police plan to continue with the Gary for Life initiative started under former Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, which includes “call-ins” where alleged gang members are offered help in changing their lives but warned police and prosecutors will show no mercy if they commit crimes.
The city’s Multi-Agency Gang Unit also will continue to target known gang members, police said.
Police have secured charges or presented their investigation to the Lake County prosecutor’s office in 25 of the 58 homicide cases, resulting in a clearance rate of 43%, Hamady said. That’s up from a rate of less than 40% in 2018.
Miranda’s homicide remains unsolved, but Rubalcava remains hopeful.
“There’s officers working on it,” she said. “I think they’re great. They’re giving us comfort.”
The motivation for Miranda’s homicide remains unclear, though family members said she recently had been trying to move on from an abusive relationship.
Her father, Manuel Miranda, said he was once in a gang and so was his daughter.
“It’s not like she was a big gang member," he said. "It's not like she was on ‘America’s Most Wanted’ or selling drugs."
Ashley Miranda was the “mother hen” among her cousins. She had a big heart and lot of friends, her father said.
She struggled with bipolar disorder and was trying to regain custody of several of her children.
She loved her five boys, ages 8, 4, 2, 1 and almost 1, dearly, Rubalcava said.
Her former boyfriend, Carlos Santos, 19, of Hammond, was sentenced Jan. 7 to two years in prison for kidnapping a woman who was pushed from a car Santos was driving in 2017 in Gary. The woman lost her hearing as a result. Miranda was in the car with them.
During his sentencing, Santos’ attorney, John Cantrell, painted Miranda as a bad influence on him and said Miranda was charged with false informing after retracting statements that led to domestic abuse charges against Santos.
Miranda’s family said her two-year relationship with Santos was rocky and abusive.
“I never claimed my granddaughter was an angel,” Rubalcava said. “She made her mistakes. Who doesn’t? But no woman deserves to die like that.”
Manuel Miranda said his 4-year-old grandson looks for his mother and wonders where she is.
“That’s one of the hardest things,” he said. “Some days I can’t sleep. I only get maybe two, three hours of sleep because my mind is racing.”
Manuel Miranda doesn't believe gangs had anything to do with his daughter's homicide, he said.
Gang-related cases are some of the most difficult to solve because witnesses are unwilling to come forward, Hamady said.
If the city is able to keep the number of gang-related homicides and shootings down, Gary's clearance rate should continue to improve, he said.
The department reorganized its drug unit last year after the string of seven drug-related homicides in February and March.
New Police Chief Richard Ligon will be looking to increase the unit’s funding, possibly through the use of forfeiture and seizure money, Hamady said. Gary police also hope to work more closely with the Lake County Sheriff’s Department to improve drug interdiction efforts.
The department hopes to bring in more outside funding for its SWAT and K-9 programs, and further bolster its partnerships with local, state and federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI.
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