LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For Louisville, 2020 has been marked by bullets and bloodshed. The city has seen a record number of shootings within the past 12 months, resulting in more more homicides than ever before.
Data provided by the Louisville Metro Police Department paints a picture of the problem. In the first nine months of the year, homicides increased by more than 80% compared to 2019. In the summer, the numbers were even worse. August alone saw a 450% increase from the previous year.
Anthony Oxondine, funeral director at Spring Valley Funeral Home, has taken care of the funerals of close to 100 of this year’s victims.
"It’s a terrible thing to watch," Oxondine said. "It’s overwhelming some days to see these families, because I want to make sure we give every family the correct and most tender, loving care we can."
One of the hardest things for Oxondine, though, is seeing just how young some of the victims are. More than 25% of people killed in Louisville in 2020 were 18 to 24 years old, and 12% were under the age of 17. LMPD also reported that more than 13% of alleged shooters are teens or children.
"Many are not in school, their after-school programs are not available to them, their recreational opportunities are not available to them, so they have a lot of time on their hands, but they don't really have social supports,” said Dr. Daniel Webster, director of the John Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy.
Norton Children’s Hospital has seen a 100% increase in children with gunshot wounds – something that has been difficult for ER physicians like Dr. Britt Anderson.
"I remember every child that I see that has died that I take care of. I think the hardest ones are the ones you can't do anything for,” Anderson said. “The hardest times are the times when you realize, when you just feel so helpless, and you have to talk to the family and tell them there is nothing more to be done. It’s gutting…it’s something that you don't forget."
But how did Louisville get here? Researchers have spent months examining every obstacle in 2020 to find what has led to the most violent year in city history. What they have discovered is a result of serious challenges cities across the country are facing.
Webster said people cannot lose sight of pre-existing conditions that can impact crime. Those conditions, like food or housing insecurities and stress brought on by health concerns, were even more prevalent during the pandemic. Research from the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice suggests the average city homicide rate was 53% higher in the summer of 2020 than in 2019.
"In most big cities, you are seeing notable increases in gun violence,” Webster said. “Many measures of crime, including some measures are violent crime are going down – the exception is gun violence."
The surge in shootings has been particularly painful for communities of color. Louisville police reported 70% of this year’s homicide victims were black, as were 80% of suspects arrested. When looking at shootings by ZIP Code, the majority of homicides took place in 40211 and 40210 – both areas in West Louisville.
Webster said the trend is not unique to the year or the city, saying it has been a nation-wide issue before COVID-19 and protests in response to police violence.
"I think the set of conditions in Louisville are maybe particularly problematic as it relates to gun violence,” Webster said. “I suspect part of that is the Breonna Taylor shooting and the response following that. I think we also can't lose sight of the pre-existing conditions.”
But these numbers are not just statistics. Louisville’s homicide victims were members of the community – and their deaths have had life-changing impacts on the people of Louisville.
Researchers like Webster are continuing to look at how Louisville and other cities can fight against these kinds of records both politically and socially.
"There's no one magic thing, but the necessary ingredients are you got to focus on the right people, you have to build trust, have to have law enforcement there to address that, but really provide the supports for people to stay away from gun violence," Webster said. "And there's really a lot of success stories when those are applied and applied well."
WHAS11 will continue to look into how Louisville can combat a record number of shootings Thursday and Friday at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.