Four women and an unborn child – those were Fort Wayne's January homicide victims, more deaths than occurred in the same month in either of the last two years.
It's also more than half the number of females killed all of last year. Of the 41 homicides in 2017, seven of the victims were women.
Depending on the coroner's ruling on the death of Jocelyn Belcher, the 2-year-old girl pronounced dead at her Butler Street home the morning of Jan. 27, the number of January homicides could jump to six, five of them female.
The reasons behind the escalating violence against or targeting of women are not clear, but police and community activists have theories.
Fort Wayne Police Chief Steve Reed blames the escalation on the “acceptance of violence” and said there are “a lot of young people with little or no positive outreach.”
Reed believes initiatives like Fort Wayne United's #couldabeenme, an outreach into white suburban churches to partner with inner city residents, could help quell violence because the message “will reach more people than ever.”
Roderick Parker, who is active in street-level outreach, said trouble comes with the company one keeps.
Parker, who spent three years at the Westville Correctional Facility for dealing cocaine, knows street life. He says the spike in female homicides has something to do with choices the women have made.
“People know the reputation of these guys out there doing stuff,” said Parker, 47, who was released from prison in 2012, “and so their association with them either for recreational reasons because they want to get high or get recognized as a person who deals in that lifestyle, they're leaving themselves open.”
Police have not reported a motive for any of the female homicides this year, but the female adult homicides have not been classified as domestic, according to Garry Hamilton, Fort Wayne deputy chief in the investigative support division.
A study released by the Violence Policy Center showed the female homicide rate had decreased nationally beginning in 1996, when the organization in Washington, D.C., started tracking the data. However, there was an increase from 2014 to 2015, according to the latest figures available.
“It will be interesting to see what the numbers are for 2016,” Marty Langley, senior policy analyst at the center, wrote in an email response.
The national rate of women murdered by men increased from 1.08 per 100,000 population in 2014 to 1.12 per 100,000 in 2015, Langley said.
Intimate partner violence accounts for nearly half of the deaths of women age 44 and younger, according to a 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last March, two women gunned down on Kensington Boulevard were the victims of a man who had once dated one of the women. He then turned the gun on himself.
Just a few weeks prior, Stephania Bartlett, 30, was killed in an alley off Sherman Boulevard by unknown men who were seen running toward Andrew Street in an alley.
The Kensington Boulevard slayings of Jenna Leakey, 18, and Hailey Nelson, 20, were classified as domestic by police, as was the ambush of three women on Nov. 9, 2017, in the 200 block of East Sherwood Terrace, Hamilton said.
The man who neighbors saw methodically pumped bullets into Nicole Saylor, Kayla Harris and Danielle Carter has not been arrested. Saylor and Harris died at the scene while Carter was critically injured but survived. No arrests have been made, but police say there are two suspects.
On Nov. 25, Heidi Colley was found bludgeoned to death in her home in New Haven. Her son, Chad Ingram, was recently charged with murder in her death.
In January, the first homicide was deemed unprosecutable. Deborah Kay Schwartz, 8, was shot in the eye with a BB gun by a 6-year-old sibling Jan. 4. She died in the hospital.
On Jan. 14, Destinie Haywood, 21, was sleeping in her car at a gas pump at the Sunoco station at Hanna and McKinnie streets about 1 a.m., waiting for a friend, when she was shot and killed. Surveillance cameras show a car driving up to Haywood's vehicle, and Keon Davall Oakley Jr., 25, getting out. A gunman ambushed them from behind a privacy fence.
Oakley was shot in the leg, but managed to run to the 4500 block of Monroe Street to call police. Haywood's 16-year-old cousin, Tieranie L. Giddens, who was also in Haywood's car, was shot in the leg and fled into the convenience store.
The shooting has not been classified as a domestic nor has the Jan. 20 shooting of two women, Preonda Jones, 36, and Brianna Gould, 24, Hamilton said. Also killed was Gould's near-term unborn son.
The perpetrators in all of these homicides have been men, police said. Deyante Antuan Stephens, 26, has been charged with murder in the deaths of Jones and Gould. Stephens was earlier convicted of reckless homicide in the shooting death of Christopher Ty-Ron Caldwell, 19, in January 2010.
Society has become numb to violence, says PattiJae Jimerson, executive director of the Victory House for Women, which helps abused women get back on their feet.
“We used to run,” Jimerson said, when gunshots were heard. “Now it's business as usual.”
Jimerson also believes that the release of small-time drug abusers and minor criminals into the wider community spells trouble for women.
“Our community control programs are releasing economically disadvantaged males out into the community where they are largely supported, by any means necessary, which is usually a woman,” she said.
At a glance
Female homicides in Allen County 2008-2018