Spike in fatal shootings over past weekend in Las Vegas Valley spells troubling trend

Sherri Ficklin’s 24-year-old nephew was shot dead just after midnight Sunday — one of five fatal shootings the valley saw last weekend.

But as she gathered with friends and family Sunday night to mourn Javarrious Eequinn Brown, they couldn’t even grieve in peace; a few shooters ignited the vigil in gunfire as the group lit candles near Pecos Road and Washington Avenue, sending people running and promptly ending the event.

The level of violence Ficklin experienced was echoed throughout the valley this past weekend, which marked a 100 percent increase in homicides compared with that time last year. As of Saturday, Las Vegas police were investigating 56 homicides, compared with 28 as of the same date a year ago.

Of the four others shot dead this past weekend, two were teens: Angelo Barboza, 15, and Benjamin Andre Soley, 17. That short span of homicides was also bookended by a shooting early Friday that killed Aaron Jordan, 18, and a stabbing about noon Monday that left another man dead.

“Obviously it’s a huge concern to the department,” Metro spokesman Larry Hadfield said. Officials plan to formally address the public about the crescendo of killings sometime this week.

The most violent of incidents last weekend happened early Saturday at the Hollywood Recreation Center, just a block away from Harney Middle School. The center exploded in 50 rounds of gunfire after a fight about 3:30 a.m., and police said the aftermath left 15-year-old Barboza dead, four others injured from either stab or gunshot wounds, and one juvenile arrested.

Almost everyone involved was a teenager, police said.

At the same park Monday afternoon, Steven Scalzo took a break from tossing a baseball with his children just across from a candlelit memorial for Barboza to talk about the fight.

“Kids these days ain’t kids anymore,” he said.

Metro homicide Lt. Dan McGrath said that’s because many kids are finding and firing guns.

Aside from the teens killed in the last few days, McGrath mentioned a recent case where a 16-year-old was arrested on a murder charge. To detectives’ disbelief, the child asked “when he could go” because he was “due to start a new job in the next few days.”

“When they pick up these guns, they’re changing the rest of their lives if they kill somebody,” McGrath said, whether they realize it or not.

Metro Undersheriff Kevin McMahill pleaded for more parental involvement Monday morning on KNPR’s “State of Nevada” program, where he talked about the number of young people involved in violent crime too.

“Parents have a responsibility to know where their kids are,” he said, referring to the Hollywood center shooting. “And what are they doing out at night, at 3 in the morning, with a gun?”

Other deaths last weekend included that of Damion Dwain Thomas, 27, who was killed Sunday afternoon in the Liberty Village apartment complex — just east of Lamb and Las Vegas boulevards — after an argument that police said may have been drug-related. Tevin Alhashemi, 21, was wounded after the shooting but survived, and he was arrested on a prohibited person with a firearm charge.

A few hours later in the southeast valley, Kevin Michael Hockar, 54, was shoved down in front of his 1000 block of Aspen Valley Avenue home and shot several times. Hockar owned a local commercial painting business, records show, and police said disgruntled employee Rene Alfaro, 33, has since been arrested in connection to his death.

“We’re very busy; the cases are nonstop,” McGrath said. But as he referred to the homicide-related arrests, he added, “We’re making progress too.”

On Monday, Las Vegas police also approved a new budget that could allow the department to hire dozens more officers.

The $552 million plan was set in motion even before the valley’s violent crime spike this year. Should both Las Vegas and Clark County approve the $12.6 million increase, the Metropolitan Police Department would be able to hire 38 new officers on top of the 149 new positions created when the More Cops sales tax increase went into effect January.

But even with an officer increase, the department is still treading water — because of population growth, officials said. Metro’s already low officer-to-population ratio won’t budge after the bump.

“Many of the solutions are tied to resources — more people, more cops,” McMahill also said on the KNPR program, which he went on to address the valley’s crime spike and respond to a Las Vegas Review-Journal story in which a gang enforcement expert questioned the department’s decentralization policy. “We’re working on hiring as many as we can as fast as we can, but even with that, those attrition numbers, we’re not going to see a whole lot of relief as that stands.”

Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said the lack of reassurance is leaving many residents worried.

“They’re concerned about the gang violence, frankly, and the shootings,” said Sisolak, who sits on Metro’s fiscal affairs committee, which approved the budget. He said he’s fielded numerous calls recently from anxious constituents.

Among other budget items approved Monday on Metro’s end were the department’s forfeiture fund, forensic services budget and 911 system budget.

State forfeitures typically yield between $1.5 and $2 million for the department each year. Metro devotes that money, combined with federal forfeitures, to narcotics operations and software projects.

The forensic services budget includes new positions to help tackle a substantial backlog in DNA evidence kits from sexual assaults.

The new budget includes funds for 20 new civilian positions, including 17 dispatchers. The department generally sees an increase in call volume of 3 or 4 percent each year, so additional dispatchers are needed, the department said. Two academy classes are currently underway for 911 dispatch operators, who should be ready for duty in July.

The operations budget approved Monday includes $379,943,854 in contributions required from the city of Las Vegas and Clark County, an increase of just over $18 million in city and county contributions from the previous fiscal year. Rich Hoggan, Metro’s chief financial officer, said however that the department was now expecting $800,000 more in revenue from property taxes than it had previously.

Review-Journal writer Alex Corey contributed to this story. Contact Wesley Juhl at wjuhl@reviewjournal.com and 702-383-0391. Find @WesJuhl on Twitter. Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290. Find @rachelacrosby on Twitter.

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