Every time Sydney Harris looks in the mirror now, she sees her 16-year-old son staring back at her.
They had the same smile, nose and eyes.
“We looked identical, so I can’t get his smile out of my mind,” she said last week, almost two months after her son, LaMadre Harris, was shot and killed in North Las Vegas. “I really don’t smile anymore knowing I look just like him. I don’t have anything to smile about.”
LaMadre’s killing on Nov. 13 is illustrative of a string of violence against young people that rattled North Las Vegas last year, when city police investigated a record-breaking total of 36 homicides.
Henderson also saw a record number of homicides last year. Nevada’s second-largest city had 16 killings, up from 10 the year before and nine in 2016.
Throughout the year, the Review-Journal tracked all homicide investigations by Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson police, including fatal officer-involved shootings, accidental shootings and cases of self-defense. In 2018, according to the newspaper’s records, a total of 212 deaths occurred in those jurisdictions.
While homicides reached a high watermark in the suburbs, the Metropolitan Police Department, which oversees the city of Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County, investigated 160 homicides last year, down from a record 171 in 2017. That number does not include the 58 victims killed on Oct. 1, 2017, at the Route 91 Harvest music festival.
Last year’s decrease in homicides was the first for the department since 2012.
Among Metro’s 2018 cases were a series of homicides at the hands of MS-13 members, the slaying of two Vietnamese tourists at Circus Circus, a string of homeless killings and the death of a nail salon manager killed over a $35 manicure.
Metro homicide Lt. Ray Spencer said he was too busy with investigations last week to comment on the department’s statistics.
Family violence in Henderson
Domestic violence drove homicide numbers last year in Henderson. Nearly half of the 16 killings there stemmed from domestic violence, and all of those involved murder-suicides, Review-Journal records show.
“That’s a particularly troubling number for us,” Lt. Kirk Moore of the public information office said last week in a sit-down interview with the newspaper.
That number is a chilling reminder that domestic violence does not discriminate — even in Henderson, which has consistently been touted as among the nation’s safest cities.
“Intimate partner violence is not isolated to any particular economic, gender, race, ethnic, cultural or religious group,” Rita Hayes, a criminal justice professor at the College of Southern Nevada Henderson campus, has said. “It can be found in opposite-sex relationships or same-sex relationships.”
Two such cases happened within hours of each other on Sept. 20.
About 7:30 that evening, police were called to a gated Henderson community to investigate reports of a shooting. When officers arrived, a billow of smoke rose in the sky above 1146 Paradise Garden Drive. Inside, four people were dead.
Selina Rowsell, a 34-year-old mother, and her two sons, Avi Franco, 5, and Arias Franco, 15, had been shot by Avi’s father, 27-year-old Michael Franco, before he turned the gun on himself.
Then, just before midnight, officers found Nicole Barker, 42, dead from a gunshot wound and Antoine Hartwell, 39, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head inside their home near Robindale Road and Eastern Avenue.
Moore said the department has a victim’s advocacy program, and police try to be proactive by searching for those considered at risk based on prior calls for service, but officers also will review every domestic violence report to see whether they missed any signs.
However, he said, in the domestic-related cases last year, none had prior domestic disturbance calls.
“Talking to neighbors, everybody’s shocked because there were no indicators,” he said.
Among other factors, Moore said a rise in the valley’s population could be contributing to the increase in homicides over the last three years.
“Where there’s one, it’s too many,” Moore said. “So it’s our goal to prevent them all, if we can.”
Henderson also has reallocated its problem-solving unit officers to patrol, Moore said. He added that the department has emphasized visibility in an effort to deter crime, as well as what he called an accountability process to help evaluate crime trends.
Young victims in North Las Vegas
Before 2018, the record number of homicide investigations in North Las Vegas was 33 in 2007.
Last year, 17 of the 36 homicides occurred from September through December, a period plagued by shootings that claimed the lives of six people ages 19 and younger.
In half of those deaths, the identified suspects also were not old enough to buy alcohol legally.
In an interview last week, North Las Vegas police Chief Pamela Ojeda recognized that those suspects were “probably not getting those guns by legal means.”
But, Ojeda said, she is working on launching a program this year in which the Police Department will provide gun safes to the community to help ensure weapons do not end up in the wrong hands.
The youngest victim was 11-year-old Angelina Erives, who was killed on Nov. 1 in a botched gang retaliation shooting that targeted the wrong house on Courtney Michelle Street.
Less than two weeks later, LaMadre was killed just over a mile away from Angelina’s home.
In response, the department stepped up patrols in the area. And Ojeda said she since has added more officers to the department’s problem-solving unit, which she described as a “fire team.”
“When they see a fire in a hot spot, they go in there, use all of the resources available, and they clean it up and move on to the next one,” she said.
Officers in that unit also are now in full uniforms and in marked patrol cars.
Since LaMadre’s death, Indya Willis, 17, and Kwavon’tia Thomas, 18, have died in North Las Vegas in two unrelated shootings.
Harris said learning of each new death feels like reliving her own son’s killing.
“It just brings back so many memories,” she said. “I feel for those mothers. No one should ever have to bury their child.”