LIMA — During the first seven months of 2016, the number of people shot has nearly doubled compared with the same period last year.
That number is 40 compared to 24 in 2015 for the first seven months of the year. It also means the number of murders has gone from one during the first seven months of last year to three this year through July, according to Lima Police Department records.
Most of it can be attributed to teenagers or young men who lead violent lives, authorities said.
Police officials and prosecutors describe a culture in which teenagers and men in their early 20s settle disputes with gunfire. In almost all cases, none of them are old enough to legally purchase a gun and if they are, they often have felony records that prevent them from buying a gun legally. It’s also black-on-black crime.
Lima Police Department Detective Steve Stechschulte is on the front lines seeing the carnage. He also sees the young age in which people are obtaining guns illegally and shooting at others, sometimes hitting someone.
“It’s not uncommon for us to have 15 or 16 on up to 20-something,” Stechschulte said of the ages of people who have been suspects in the shootings.
Stechschulte said most are affiliated with some group that he and other officers said are gangs. But the people Stechschulte arrests will not say they are a member of a gang, he said.
“They claim they are rap groups,” he said.
The members of these gangs are not divided by the area of town in which they live but rather by groups of people they hang out with, Stechschulte said.
Sixth Ward City Councilman Derry Glenn said Lima does not have gangs.
“There is not a gang problem. These are kids who are always together,” Glenn said.
Glenn said he is out in the neighborhoods talking to people and has a good sense of what is happening. He said police officials and others who say there are gangs in Lima would learn more if they spent more time in the neighborhoods talking to people.
“You have to go in the neighborhood like I do,” Glenn said. “These are kids who grew up together. They are bullies, they are cowards, and they are the ones who carry a gun. We do not have a gang problem.”
Glenn said Stechschulte should go with him and talk to people.
“I challenge him to come walk with me in the neighborhood. Get out of the car, walk around and then you will find out if there is a gang or not,” Glenn said. “The ones walking around go buy a gun somewhere and they say they’re bad. They think they’re bad. That’s all we got. We don’t got gangs.”
Those remarks leave Stechschulte shaking his head in disbelief.
“My question to those who say we don’t have a gang problem is what do you call them? What is your definition of a gang?” Stechschulte said.
Stechschulte frequently comes across teenagers and young men who affiliate themselves with a group. They get money from stealing, selling drugs, or breaking into homes, Stechschulte said.
“Very few of these gang members have jobs,” he said.
Stechschulte said Glenn or anyone else can call a bunch of teenagers or young men “a group” or “a gang whatever you want,” but the bottom line is there are groups of young people who commit crimes of violence including shootings and murders.
Allen County Prosecutor Juergen Waldick said whatever the groups are called they are individuals who all know each other and hang out in different groups. Sometimes, people loosely affiliated with one group switch to the other. The violence happens from things that should be inconsequential but is settled with bullets.
“It’s an ongoing feud or tension between groups of people,” Waldick said.
Assistant Prosecutor Tony Miller said he’s handled murder cases that happened in a spur of a moment or when there has been a fight that quickly results in someone pulling a gun. He pointed to the Marcus Simpson murder in 2014 outside the H&R Lounge in which Simpson was trying to play the role of peacemaker.
“Jaquone Phillips just popped up with a gun and shot him. It was an impulsive thing,” Miller said.
The murder of Da’Veon Petaway at Meat City on March 7 was the result of bad blood between two groups with a 16-year-old boy pulling a gun and killing Petaway, Miller said.
Some of the shootings this year have been during the middle of the day in the streets when people are out and about, making it even more dangerous, Stechschulte said.
Police officers frequently are called to locations where shots are fired including many times where no one is hit, but that does not mean the matter is any less a serious, Stechschulte said.
“The difference between shots fired and homicide are whether someone was hit,” he said. “It doesn’t change the act.”
One of the youngest killers Stechschulte has seen in recent years was Dederick Matthews, who was 14 when he killed 16-year-old Eric Armstead on Aug. 30, 2010, at 620 Madison Ave. That started out with someone stepping on another person’s shoe at the Allen County Fair. Members of both groups were kicked out and they began fighting in the parking lot of Wal-Mart and then at school in the days that followed.
Armstead got the better of one of the kids so the group went looking for Armstead but were chased off by Armstead’s uncle. Later, the group returns with Matthews who had his brother’s gun. Matthews shot Armstead in the head. Matthews was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sent to prison for 13 years.
Police and prosecutors believe the Armstead murder spurred a number of shootings since that time, maybe not for the sake of revenge but because of bad blood between groups. Not every shooting hit, wounded, or killed someone but groups still were shooting at each other, police officials and prosecutors said.
There has been a lot of tension between one gang that calls themselves the Northsiders and the other that calls themselves the Eastsiders, Stechschulte said.
“I can tell you from many of my contacts in the inner city of Lima, most of the tension between those two groups began with the Eric Armstead murder,” Stechschulte said.
They also believed it underscored the trivial reason in which children and young adults kill.
Miller, who is in his mid-40s, said when he was young, children settled disputes with their fists then walked away and the matter was over. Today, there is no respect and it’s settled with guns, he said.
While the vast majority of young people shooting cannot legally buy a gun they still find a way to get weapons. Stechschulte said most of the guns come from the streets, often stolen during a burglary and frequently by someone to support a drug habit.
“They are getting most of these guns through burglaries,” Stechschulte said.
But Glenn said he’s been told by children and others that young people are getting their guns at the fairgrounds during gun shows. Glenn said they send in adults old enough to buy who can pass an FBI criminal background check to buy guns.
Stechschulte said he doesn’t buy that and police officials don’t get complaints of straw man purchases at the gun show. Miller pointed out the gun show is only held during part of the year and agrees with Stechschulte.
Stechschulte could name three people this year he’s arrested for breaking into houses and stealing guns.
Glenn said he would like to see new laws to stop children and young people from obtaining guns.
“These kids are kids and they shouldn’t even have guns,” Glenn said. “Laws on guns are not being enforced. They are not being enforced until violence occurs.”
Stechschulte said there are enough laws on the books, the laws have to be enforced and the penalties have to be severe for gun crimes, which is not the case.
Stechschulte also is quick to say the problem is not with the gun, it’s with the behavior of the people committing crimes.
“The big thing to remember, it’s not the gun killing them. You take away the guns and they are going to run them over with cars, they are going to knife them,” Stechschulte said.
Stechschulte frequently comes across children or young men who have no fear of killing others or going to prison. They also don’t think about death and the fact it could happen to them.
When the young people who shot another person talk to Stechschulte they often claim self-defense or blame the other person, he said.
To stop the problem, people in the community are going to have to step up and that includes leaders such as Glenn, Stechschulte said.
“As long as city officials like Derry Glenn want to deny we have a gang problem, it will never stop,” Stechschulte said.
Stechschulte said people have to be willing to turn in those committing violent crimes and other criminal acts. People also must have the courage to testify at trial against someone who committed a violent crime, he said.
Glenn said he has been investigating how children and young men, who cannot legally purchase a gun, get guns. He has helped form a group called Ceasefire Lima with Vickie Shurelds, the former head of the Mizpah Center. He said other community leaders need to step up to help solve the problem.
“You can’t leave this with one group. This is all of our problem. It’s not just a Derry Glenn problem,” Glenn said. “We all need to come together, not just Derry Glenn.”
On Saturday, Ceasefire Lima will hold a community roundtable at Lima City Council chambers from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to have youths, ages 16 to 24, talk about youth violence and ways to address the problem.
Stechschulte said a big part of the equation to solving the problem is people in the community working with police to improve their community and letting police know when crime happens and where it happens.
“That has to be encouraged by other members of the community whether they think we are their friend or foe,” Stechschulte said. “It’s going to take people to say if you want people to stop dying out here you’re going to have to start cooperating with law enforcement and the Prosecutor’s Office.
Second, Stechschulte said the young people committing the violence have to be afraid of incarceration. Prisons have become more like recreation centers with video games, putt-putt golf and television to watch, he said.
“If you’re not afraid of the punishment you’re going to commit crime at will,” Stechschulte said. “How do we get it to stop? Make prison a place they don’t want to go. It all comes down to making them afraid to break the law and that’s not the case anymore. Punishment is the only thing that is going to get people to change.”
Reach Greg Sowinski at 567-242-0464 or on Twitter @Lima_Sowinski.