The article incorrectly stated that last year marked the first time this decade that Fairfax County surpassed 20 homicides. This was the third time this decade that the count was more than 20. Fairfax reported a total of 22 homicides in 2008.
Rise in Young Killers Worries D.C.
Friday, January 2, 2009
Even in a year in which the homicide numbers barely budged, D.C. police and prosecutors see signs that don't bode well for the future: an increase in younger killers, apt to open fire on crowded city streets, who could not care less about the damage they cause.
Many young suspects put their heads down and even try to sleep during interrogations, according to D.C. homicide detectives. Others seem cold inside, with no sense of reality.
"They just don't care," said Detective Eric Fenton.
The District recorded 186 homicides in 2008, a slight increase from 181 the previous year. Sixteen juveniles were arrested in homicide cases, up from 10 in 2007. Authorities said juveniles and young adults were responsible for several daylight attacks in which innocent bystanders were shot.
"They seem to be content to hit anything they can hit," said Glenn Kirschner, who heads the homicide unit of the U.S. attorney's office and has prosecuted cases for almost two decades.
Years ago, much of the violence was tied to organized criminal elements seeking bigger drug profits, Kirschner said. In the past few years, however, many homicides have stemmed from petty disputes among neighborhood rivals, such as gangs or crews, he said.
"They're younger kids, they're not so well-funded or well-organized, but they seem more reckless and cavalier in firing up a rival crew," Kirschner said. "And as a result, they're putting everybody at risk."
Twenty juveniles were slain in the District in 2008, including a 13-year-old bystander who was killed July 19 in the Trinidad area of Northeast Washington by a crew of older teenagers who were firing indiscriminately, police said. On New Year's Eve, members of the Northeast Performing Arts Group, a nonprofit that uses dance and the arts to keep youths out of trouble, held their annual vigil in remembrance of juvenile victims, including the teenager, Alonzo Robinson.
"The kids will tell me 'Sssh, I don't care. . . . I'm just trying to live until next year,' " said Rita Jackson, the arts group's executive director. "That just makes your heart kind of drop in your feet."
Washington area jurisdictions recorded 429 homicides in 2008 -- up from 415 the year before -- with triple-digit body counts as usual in the District and Prince George's County (136). The Prince George's total, down from 144 in 2007, included eight people fatally shot by police. In Fairfax County, 22 people were slain, the first time this decade that the annual total surpassed 20. Although the number represented a 57 percent increase over the 2007 total of 14, it was still low for a jurisdiction of more than a million people.
For the District, 2008 was the fifth consecutive year with a homicide toll of less than 200. Through the 1990s and the early part of this decade, the city averaged 342 slayings a year, peaking at 479 in 1991, at the height of the crack epidemic.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said homicides remained flat in many U.S. cities in 2008, though officials are concerned about a rise in killings involving juveniles. "Unfortunately, with juveniles, it doesn't take too much for a small altercation to turn into a violent crime," he said.