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Killings on the rise in Broward, South Florida in general


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SOUTH FLORIDA CRIME

Killing is on the rise, with young black men often the victimsBY WANDA J. DeMARZO

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Interactive | Dying Young

Minutes into the New Year, the carnage that marked the end of a bloody 2006 in Broward continued with the shooting death of an 18-year-old.

 

Now, barely a week into 2007, Broward has averaged almost a killing a day. As of Saturday, six people had been murdered -- three of those killings reported on New Year's day.

 

''The days of low crime rates are gone,'' said Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne. ``This is a serious problem and will be the story of the year.''

 

The death of Victor Manuel Villanueva, Broward's first homicide of 2007, may forecast another bloody year of killings in the county.

 

It also typified a trend that closed out 2006. Most of Broward's 95 homicide victims were young men, mostly minorities, often killed with guns after a tit-for-tat dispute that turned deadly. Sixty-five of the 95 died from gunfire.

 

Broward's 2006 homicide toll represents a 50 percent increase from 2005. The spike mirrors other U.S. metropolitan areas -- including Miami-Dade County, which registered 258 homicides last year, up 40 percent from 2005. Palm Beach County homicides were up 26 percent, reaching 101 last year.

 

On Thursday, Ric Bradshaw, Palm Beach County sheriff, asked federal authorities for help. The FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; and the Drug Enforcement Administration will assist the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office in investigating organized crime in the county.

 

AN ESCALATION

 

Authorities cite various reasons for the uptick in violence: poverty, a population spike for young men, police departments stretched thin on the streets, a proliferation of weapons.

 

Broward's victims came from a wide spectrum of backgrounds -- black, Hispanic, Asian and white. Their lives were varied -- one homicide victim was homeless; another had not yet been born.

 

A sampling:

 

? Baby Kenna, just days from being born, died after her father stabbed and shot her mother, 24-year-old Elizabeth Kenna, during a confrontation in a Sunrise apartment May 8.

 

? Sharon Smith, 45, was gunned down in her Dania Beach apartment in front of her elderly mother and grandson by her daughter's jealous ex-boyfriend June 3.

 

? Helen Cozan, 81, was found by neighbors in her Imperial Point condo Sept. 8. The Bible school teacher had been stabbed to death. Police say the son of her close friend and neighbor was the killer.

 

TOLL ON BLACKS

 

In 2006, black males shot to death accounted for 40 percent of Broward's victims. More than half were 25 or younger.

 

In Miami-Dade, black males accounted for 105 of the county's 258 homicides, according to statistics from the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner.

 

''When I hear those numbers, it means we're losing a generation,'' said Queen Brown, whose 21-year-old son, Eviton, of Carol City, was shot dead in October.

 

On June 13, Sharrod Smith, 15, died from gunshot wounds, after an argument between two groups in Roosevelt Gardens.

 

Less than 24 hours later, Casmo Hill, 17, was accidentally shot in the chest by one of his friends during a botched robbery attempt in Broadview Park near Davie.

 

On July 3, someone in a white box truck shot 14-year-old Markese Wiggan as he walked near U.S. 441 in Lauderhill with his brother. His killer has not been arrested.

 

All three youths were black.

 

''We will never get over his murder, his death,'' said Markese's father, Maurice Saulsby, of Lauderhill. ``We're still struggling to come to terms with it. My son had just turned 14, he was just a kid.''

 

The murder devastated the family. Saulsby said his depression has kept him from holding a job. Markese's mother suffers from constant anxiety attacks. Fifteen-year-old Maurice, who was with Markese the night of his death, won't talk about that night.

 

''He holds everything inside and has thrown himself into sports,'' Saulsby said. ``None of us will ever get over it.''

 

Law enforcement officials say Markese's death reflects a trend across the county: More and more disputes and robberies are ending in gunfire.

 

''What used to be a shove or a taunt is now being answered with gunfire,'' Sheriff Jenne said. ``We see a trend in the counties surrounding us and all along the East Coast. The violence is being committed by males in the 16-to-25 age bracket and it's not something we can dismiss.''

 

Across the country, the rate of killings has spiked in many cities, reaching the highest levels in a decade in some areas.

 

''There's now a volatility in the violence that we haven't seen in a decade,'' said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. ``We've been tracking this for two years and what's happening in Broward cities is happening in Orange County, Jacksonville . . .

 

``Florida is a significant example of what's going on in the country.''

 

SENSELESS CRIMES

 

The brutal slaying of Albert Avenaim, an Aventura grandfather, illustrates the senselessness of many of the crimes.

 

Avenaim was shot to death in the parking lot of Hallandale Beach's Padrino's Cuban restaurant the night of Feb. 10 after dropping his wife off to put their names on the waiting list.

 

He drove around the corner to park and was accosted. Police say it was a robbery.

 

Brian Bethell, the man who police say killed Avenaim, also is charged with gunning down two others in a crime spree in early 2006.

 

''His murder had a tremendous impact on all of us,'' said Avenaim's brother, Maurice Avenaim. ``It was a meaningless murder.''

 

Joan Avenaim blames herself for her husband's death, her brother-in-law said.

 

''She thinks that if she had been with him in the car that it wouldn't have happened,'' Maurice Avenaim said. ``This was so senseless and it didn't have to happen.''

 

CONTINUED TREND

 

Experts say the violence is expected to continue to rise.

 

''This problem is disproportionately affecting the poorer and poorer people, and juveniles are playing an increasing role,'' Wexler said. ``It will only get worse because there is no appreciation on the part of the juveniles for the sanctity for human life.''

 

Curbing crime will require preventive programs aimed at young people in the critical 16 to 25 age bracket, Jenne said.

 

And there has to be a maximum punishment doled out to anyone committing a crime with a weapon, Jenne said.

 

''If juveniles are using weapons they need to be tried as adults,'' Jenne said. ``We have to go back to prevention and punishment if we are going to get a handle on the rising crime.''

 

Miami Herald staff writers David Ovalle and Breanne Gilpatrick contributed to this report.

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