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GARY — The city underwent another cruel weekend as police found three more homicide victims within four hours Sunday morning.

Gary Police Lt. Dawn Westerfield said the department's officers responded to Ninth Place and Harrison Street, just west of the downtown area, shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday to investigate reports of a suspicious vehicle. 

Officers found two men dead of apparent gunshot wounds at the scene. The two men remained unidentified Sunday afternoon.

The Lake County Coroner's office said one man had "South side" tattooed on his right forearm and was wearing a black crew neck T-shirt, Polo Ralph Lauren gray sweatpants and blue Jordans shoes. There was no further description of the second man.

Earlier Sunday, authorities say they found the body of an apparent homicide victim in a residential area near the border between Gary and Lake Station.

Westerfield said at 4:20 a.m. police responded to the 2500 block of Central Avenue, just east of the Interstate 65 and Interstate 94 interchange, for a welfare check. Officers discovered a female with apparent gunshot wounds.

The Lake County Coroner's office said the woman, who remains unidentified, died of causes yet to be determined by an investigation.

The coroner's office said the woman had stars tattooed on her left eyebrow and left foot, "YOLO" tattooed on her left chest, "William" tattooed on her right chest, "Heather," with hearts and stars underneath, on her back and "Darius" on her left wrist.

She was wearing a black skirt, a black short sleeve shirt and Nike sandals.

Westerfield said Gary Police Detective Alexander Jones is investigating both incidents. Anyone with further information on either incident is urged to contact the Lake County/Gary Metro Homicide Unit at 219-755-3855 or the Crime Tip Line at 866-CRIME-GP.

A violent summer

It was the most violent period in Gary since Jessie Brown, 29, of Gary, was killed and six others were wounded between July 4 and July 6.

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Lake County Coroner Merrilee Frey said earlier this month her office has recorded 24 homicides in the city for the first six months of this year. All but two were gunshot victims. That compares with 23 killings in the first half of last year, Frey said. Firearms played a role in 17 of those cases.

Gary has been averaging 48 murders a year between 2007 and 2016, the most recent year available in the FBI uniform crime statistics as reported by Gary police.

Frey said homicides keep her office one of the busiest of Indiana's 92 county coroners.

Searching for solutions

The city's bloody history has prompted U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirsch II to designate Gary as one of the northern Indiana cities that will be the focus of Project Safe Neighborhoods efforts by his office against the most violent criminals in the most violent areas. The other is South Bend.

Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez said earlier this month the number of shootings increase and peak during the summer months as outdoor activities, coupled with alcohol consumption and drug use contribute to the mayhem.

His department directs officers doing routine patrols of the unincorporated areas outside of Gary to go into the city to assist Gary police. He also assigns a High Crime Unit into areas that have seen increased crime to get the guns and drugs that fuel much of the killing off the streets.

The sheriff also has taken part in the formation of the Metro Homicide Unit, a group of detectives specializing in homicide investigations. The sheriff's crime forensic laboratory, aviation and marine units and tactical team also contribute to Gary's crime fight.

He also deploys a Lake County Drug Task Force of undercover officers and informants to disrupt illicit substance sales.

As bad as it is now, it has been worse, according to public safety officials. Gary averaged 50 homicides a year in the last half of the 1980s. That grew to 84 homicides annually during the 1990s, and declined to 60 a year between 2000 and 2009, the FBI reports.

That adds up to more than 2,000 having fallen to violence since 1985.

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