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Child homicides, fatal police-involved shootings increase in 2017

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BREAKING: Police investigating death in downtown Chesterton

Police and the Porter County coroner investigate the death of Nicole Gland whose body was found in downtown Chesterton in April 2017. Christopher Dillard, of Hobart, has been charged in her stabbing death. 

The number of homicides inched up in 2017 across much of Northwest Indiana, driven in part by an increasing amount of violence against children.

Lake County saw at least 75 homicides last year, compared with 71 in 2016 and 75 in 2015, according to preliminary police data and county records.

Gary saw the most homicides, with 48, up from 46 in 2016 but fewer than the 50 logged in 2015. The manner of death in a battery case from 2017 remained pending, Lt. Thomas Pawlak said.

Charges were filed in 15 of Gary's 48 homicide cases, one was cleared as a murder-suicide and two were police-involved shootings deemed to be justified, Pawlak said.

Hammond logged 12 homicides, up from eight in 2016 and six in 2015. Police secured charges in five cases, cleared two as murder-suicides and presented one case involving a man killed during a robbery attempt to the Lake County prosecutor's office for review, Lt. Steve Kellogg said.

East Chicago's homicide total decreased for the second year, falling to five in 2017 from six in 2016 and eight in 2015. Charges have been secured in four of 2017's cases, and the fifth case was presented to the prosecutor's office for review, Lt. Marguerite Wilder said.

Porter County logged four homicides, up from zero in 2016 but fewer than the five reported in 2015.

Homicides in LaPorte County decreased, to two in 2017 from three in 2016. The county logged five homicides in 2015.

16 children lost

Sixteen children lost their lives in homicides in 2017 across all three counties, compared with seven in 2016 and 10 in 2015 in Lake County. No child homicides were reported in Porter or LaPorte counties in 2016 and 2015.

This year's child homicide cases spanned many communities.

Eight children younger than 13 died as a result of abuse or neglect, including a 1-year-old girl in Merrillville, two 1-year-old girls in Gary, a 20-month-old girl in Portage, a 4-year-old boy in East Chicago, a 9-year-old girl in Hobart, and a 12-year-old Gary boy.

Gary police also are investigating the death of a 7-day-old boy, whose homicide resulted from an assault on his mother, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

Seven teenagers were shot to death, including a 15-year-old Michigan City girl, a 15-year-old East Chicago boy, two 16-year-old boys in Gary, a 17-year-old Hammond girl, and a 13-year-old Hammond boy hit by a bullet that fell from the sky, records show.

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Kemonte Cobbs, 15, of Gary, died in August after he was shot by police following a car chase from Munster into Gary. A preliminary investigation showed Cobbs pointed a gun at police and the prosecutor's office determined Cobbs' shooting was justified, police said.

The cause of death for a 17-year-old boy found dead in Gary in December remained pending, according to the Lake County coroner's office.

Police-involved shootings

Cobbs was the youngest person killed in 2017 in a police-involved shooting, a category in which the Region also saw increases from the year before.

After no fatal police-involved shootings in 2016, Northwest Indiana saw five last year. 

Besides Cobbs, 33-year-old Mark Coffey, of Chicago Heights, was shot by police in Dyer on Aug. 10 following a car chase that initially started in Crete. The Lake County prosecutor's office later found the shooting was justified.

William D. Spates, 39, of Portage, was shot by an officer April 22 after he accelerated in reverse and hit the officer's car, police said.

Dvontai Wright, 25, of Griffith, died in a shootout Feb. 26 outside a Gary nightclub that involved multiple people and two Gary police officers. An East Chicago man was charged with attempted murder and carrying a handgun without a license in connection with the shootout. Both Gary officers discharged their weapons but neither fatally struck Wright, according to the Lake County prosecutor's office.

Marquis Thomas, 19, of Merrillville, died Jan. 20 after he was shot by a Lake County sheriff's officer during a foot pursuit. Police said Thomas fired on the officer during the pursuit, wounding a police K-9.

Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel said it was a pretty typical year for the county both in the number and types of homicides.

In each of the cases, other than the police shooting, the parties knew each other, he said.

Hobart resident Christopher Dillard is charged with stabbing to death Portage resident Nicole Gland, 23, on April 19 in her vehicle outside the former Upper Deck Lounge, 139 S. Calumet Road, Chesterton, where they both worked.

Karen Sons is charged with murder in the Dec. 8 shooting death of 54-year-old Robert Head at the couple's home on California Avenue in the Lake Eliza area. Sons claimed she shot Head in self-defense.

Times staff writer Bob Kasarda contributed to this report.

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.

Lake County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Sarah covers crime, federal courts and breaking news for The Times. She joined the paper in 2004 after graduating from Purdue University Calumet.

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