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Police and fire


Suspect arrested in homicide

22-year-old shot dead; homicide rate at 8-year high

Samuel Hoffman | Journal Gazette
Joseph Conwell reflects on the death of his son Joseph, who was discovered early Wednesday in the 3100 block of Lillie Street with a gunshot wound.
Journal Gazette

– Like many 22-year-olds, Joseph Conwell was searching for his path in life.

He wanted to earn his GED certificate, produce hip-hop songs and maybe one day play basketball for the Mad Ants, his father said. But those dreams died Wednesday when, according to Fort Wayne police, a man fatally shot Conwell in a southeast-side alley.

It was the 31st homicide in Allen County this year. That tops last year’s total of 30 and is an eight-year high.

Shortly after the shooting, police arrested the alleged gunman, 38-year-old William E. Martin, on a preliminary charge of aggravated battery. Investigators believe the shooting stemmed from a dispute over a woman and a previous incident of vandalism, said officer Mike Joyner, a police spokesman.

Conwell’s father, who goes by the same name as his son, said he believes his son’s girlfriend was at the center of the dispute.

“That was his first love, his only love,” he said.

He described his son, the oldest of five children, as a caring young man who was often smiling and joking.

“He wasn’t a bad kid,” his father, 41, said. “I didn’t have to worry about him getting in any trouble.”

A check of the Indiana courts website showed that Conwell had no misdemeanors or felonies on his record.

The shooting that took his life occurred in an alley between Lillie and Winter streets, near Eckart Street. It’s a neighborhood where residents like 28-year-old Jessica Garcia are used to hearing fights and gunfire.

Leading up to Wednesday’s shooting, Garcia, who lives along the alley, heard cars driving up and down the alley and people quarreling.

“They were just arguing,” she said. “You could hear them screaming and yelling.”

Garcia said she later heard three gunshots. The shooting was reported to police about 2:20 a.m., and when officers arrived, they found Conwell critically wounded in the alley. He was taken to a hospital, where he later died.

Officers spoke with residents and canvassed the neighborhood, and police soon found Martin in the area, Joyner said.

“Quite frankly, it was good police work,” he said of the quick arrest. “It was great police work.”

Martin was held at the Allen County Jail in lieu of $400,000. According to the Indiana Department of Correction, he was convicted in 1998 of two counts of dealing cocaine and sentenced to seven years in prison.

On Wednesday afternoon, Conwell’s family and friends gathered in the yard of his home not far from the site of the shooting.

Conwell grew up in Fort Wayne and attended South Side High School. In recent years, he did temporary work but had trouble holding onto jobs because he did not have a GED certificate, his father said.

Conwell’s father, a 20-year employee of the city street department, said he learned of the shooting at 8 a.m. Wednesday while at work. The devastating news came a day after he had become a grandfather.

On Tuesday, Conwell’s 20-year-old sister, Brittany, gave birth to a baby girl. After learning of his death, she gave the baby the middle name Josephine.

“I think she wanted to do something for her brother,” Conwell’s father said.