Tempe murder rate highest since 2000

HIGH CRIME: Tempe’s homicide rate for 2010 is the highest it’s been in a decade. There have been 12 reported murders so far this year. (Photo by Taylor Lineberger)

On Sept. 30, the body of 48-year-old Casey Blackwood was pulled from a Dumpster in a Tempe alleyway — the 11th homicide victim for Tempe police since January.

Blackwood’s body was discovered near 10th Street and Ash Avenue, within earshot of the ASU campus. A stab wound was determined to be the cause of his death, according to the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office, and police officials said they didn’t believe his death was inadvertent.

Less than three weeks later, 21-year-old ASU political science student Zachary Marco was gunned down near University Drive and Rural Road in an apparent robbery attempt, becoming the 12th homicide victim of the year, Tempe police spokesman Sgt. Steve Carbajal said.

These cases are in addition to the backlog of unsolved homicides of 2010. Tempe police found the bodies of John Louis Call, 19, and James Sheldon Mosteller, 53, Aug. 5 after the men were shot execution-style at Mosteller’s business on the 1700 block of East Curry Road in Tempe. Benjamin Zamora, 34, was found shot and killed at a Motel 6 on the 500 block of West Broadway Road in Tempe on June 21.

And that’s only five of the 12 slayings reported this year.

TWELVE

The homicide rate in Tempe has reached its highest point in 10 years, nearing the 13 reported homicides in 2000.

But 2010 isn’t over yet.

“One homicide is too many and each incident is tragic and unique from the others,” Carbajal said in a statement Tuesday about the murders of ASU students this year.

Tempe hasn’t seen homicides in the double digits since 2002, and many years haven’t come close. Last year, only two homicides were reported. That was the lowest total seen in 20 years.

On average, five homicides are committed in Tempe every year, he said.

Several people have inquired about the increase in homicides this year, Carbajal said.

“We want to let our community know that violent crime is down in Tempe,” he said.

Through the end of September, violent crime overall in Tempe is down 13.7 percent since this time last year.

Sexual assaults are down 29.4 percent, robberies are down 16.5 percent and assaults are down 12.6 percent, according to Tempe police statistics.

Homicides, on the other hand, are up 500 percent this year compared to the same time frame in 2009.

The proliferating homicide occurrences also seem to be exclusive to Tempe.

Police spokesmen in Scottsdale and Chandler said three homicides have been reported each in those cities.

Even with a population of 178,519, Tempe has four times more homicides this year than both Scottsdale and Chandler — cities with populations of 237,844 and 249,535, respectively.

In fact, Phoenix is the only city in the Valley to report more homicides so far in 2010 than Tempe, with 69, as reported in monthly crime reports from the Phoenix Police Department.

With a population of nearly 1.6 million people, Phoenix may have almost six times as many homicides as Tempe, but has nine times as many residents.

For every 100,000 Tempe residents, there have been 6.7 homicide victims this year. In Phoenix, there have been 4.3 homicide victims per 100,000 people. For the same proportion of population in Scottsdale and Chandler, there have been 1.3 and 1.2 homicide victims, respectively.

The new homicides are creating stacks of case files on the desks of Tempe police investigators.

UNSOLVED

With a burgeoning number of homicides in Tempe, another alarming number is also on the rise — unsolved homicides.

Of the 12 reported homicides in Tempe this year, only five have been cleared by arrest.

Three homicide suspects, Eugene Wade Bradford, 49, Victor Abraham Martinez, 24, and Baylee White, 19, were arrested between January and May this year in connection with the deaths of their former significant others.

Other homicide cases, including that of Benjamin Zamora, who was shot at a Motel 6 on West Broadway Road June 21, have not yielded arrests, even months later.

On ASU’s Tempe campus, some students are distraught not only with a considerable number of unsolved homicides around their city, but also the unsettled homicides of their fellow classmates.

Around 2 a.m. on May 26, 21-year-old ASU student Kyleigh Sousa became the victim of an attempted robbery.

When she was pronounced dead nearly 20 hours later, Sousa became a homicide victim.

Sousa was in the parking lot of the International House of Pancakes south of the Tempe campus on East Apache Boulevard, just steps away from the front door of the ASU Police Department. Police said a “heavy-set man” in a late-model silver Chrysler 300 attempted to steal her purse.

The man grabbed her purse while still driving his vehicle, police said, but Sousa became entangled in the purse straps.

The would-be robber dragged Sousa with his vehicle for several feet, police said, until she fell to the ground and the he fled the scene.

Sousa was taken to a nearby Tempe hospital, where she was declared brain dead by doctors at 8:55 p.m., and was kept on life support until her family, who flew in from New Jersey to see her, could say goodbye for the last time.

About two weeks after Sousa’s death, Tempe police released a sketch of the suspect in hopes that someone would recognize the man.

In July, a new clue popped up — a friend’s driver’s license that had been in Sousa’s purse was placed inside a U.S. Postal Service mailbox sometime between May 26 and June 20, police said.

Police have since been unable to locate the person who put the license in the mailbox.

Other sources have also come to the aid in helping to find the man responsible for Sousa’s death.

Silent Witness, a nonprofit organization that allows citizens to anonymously assist law enforcement solve crimes, offered an $11,000 reward for information leading to an arrest or indictment of any and all parties responsible.

Sousa’s death was also picked up by John Walsh’s “America’s Most Wanted,” a television program that claimed as of Oct. 14 to be responsible for the arrests of 1,132 people. Viewers were asked to help capture the man dubbed the “Unknown Kyleigh Sousa Killer.”

Now, almost five months later, no arrest has been made in the case, and students on the Tempe campus are still bewildered by her death.

ASU marketing junior Matt Bodmer, who had known Sousa for about a year before her death, said he met Sousa through his roommate while he lived at Vista Del Sol on-campus apartments.

“It’s weird to me, with how much information the police have, you think that they would have been able to put something together by now,” Bodmer said. “Obviously, they’re professionals; it’s not like they didn’t do anything, but it almost seems like they’ve forgotten about it because it’s been so long.”

Fast-forward nearly five months from Sousa’s death.  On Sunday, 21-year-old political science student Zachary Marco was shot at a Tempe apartment complex, a crime where police determined the motive was robbery.

Marco died later at a nearby hospital, and as of Wednesday, many of the details surrounding the circumstances of his death had not been released.

But one part of Marco’s death resonates with an unnerving fact consistent in five other 2010 homicides — the case is unsolved.

“When I heard about this Zachary Marco thing, I thought, ‘here we go again,’” Bodmer said.

Within 20 hours of the shooting, Tempe police sent out a community alert and spent the evening hours with officers and volunteers canvassing nearby student-housing complexes, in part to inform the public of the shooting, and to search for missing clues that might lead authorities to the suspects, Tempe police Lt. Vince Boerbon said.

Tempe police officers — including Carbajal, Boerbon and Cmdr. Dave Humble — and between 10 and 12 citizen volunteers, including several volunteers from the ASU Police Department, printed 1,000 fliers alerting the community to the homicide, Boerbon said.

“A lot of times somebody will see something suspicious and be on their way,” Boerbon said to the volunteers and members of the media Monday afternoon. “Usually we get some information. Someone will have seen something they may have thought wasn’t crucial.”

Boerbon, a 27-year veteran of law enforcement, said that on the day of the shooting, officers were out all night gathering leads, and he was hoping neighbors would come through with information that would lead to arrests.

As of Wednesday, the perpetrators in Marco’s death remain known only as two black males, one man approximately 25 years old and 6 feet tall with a thin build, and the other man around 5 feet, 9 inches.

A crime alert issued Tuesday by the ASU Police Department described the suspects’ vehicle as a dark blue newer-model Toyota Corolla.

When Boerbon was asked whether the use of volunteers and door-to-door interaction with residents to deliver information and gather leads hinted toward a trend of Tempe homicides, he said, “We’re not so worried that it’s going to happen again.”

ON CAMPUS

ASU’s Tempe campus, in the heart of north Tempe, is sprawled across approximately 642 acres, and boasts an enrollment of nearly 60,000 students, roughly one-third the population of Tempe.

A homicide hasn’t been reported on the Tempe campus in recent history. But to some students, the University isn’t completely off the hook.

Graduate student Hector Mendoza, who is pursuing his Masters of Business Administration at ASU, said the University’s outreach efforts regarding Tempe’s homicides are belittling the safety of the student population.

“I would hope that [ASU administration] would find it more important to alert the students about this incident than to engage in perception management,” Mendoza said as police canvassed his apartment complex after Marco’s death.

The first notification to students from the University of Marco’s death was sent in an e-mail to students, faculty and staff Tuesday night from Elizabeth Capaldi, the University executive vice president and provost, and Morgan Olsen, the University executive vice president, treasurer and chief financial officer.

“Please know that the ASU Police Department is working closely with the City of Tempe Police Department to investigate and solve this terrible crime,” the e-mail said.

As far as the Tempe Police Department is concerned, Mendoza said he wants a better allocation of resources to make Tempe a safer place for students.

“I hope that the Tempe Police Department and its citizenry would see this as an opportunity to divert its resources from babysitting ASU students on Mill Avenue with their horses and their underage drinking control,” he said. “Put officers on the streets with their bikes and with those horses to patrol the high-traffic pedestrian areas where they know ASU students are commuting back and forth between campus and their homes.”

In regard to the University, Carbajal said there is a long-standing partnership between Tempe and ASU police, and the departments have conducted numerous safety campaigns together.

“Two ASU students have been murdered in Tempe this year,” Carbajal said Tuesday. “Our goal is to provide students, residents and visitors [with] safety information to minimize their chances of being victimized.”

On Friday, ASU police, Counseling and Consultation, and Residential Life will host a campus safety forum at 3 p.m. at the Palo Verde East Hub and the Vista Del Sol movie theater in its community center, both in Tempe, for a discussion regarding personal safety for students.

Tempe police urge anyone with information regarding any of the unsolved crimes to call the Tempe Police Department at 480-350-8311, or Silent Witness at 480-WITNESS (480-948-6377).

Reach the reporter at mhendley@asu.edu

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