There were 50 percent more homicides in Bibb County this year than in 2016.
The death toll reached 30 the morning of Dec. 21, when the body of 21-year-old Neil Patel was found in the woods near the Bloomfield Recreation Center.
“God help us,” Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said, breaking the news to a group of reporters behind the crime scene tape that was stretched across Lions Place at Southview Drive.
“If we ever need prayer, we need it now,” he said. “This is 30. And this is Macon, you know. This ain’t Cobb County, Fulton County, DeKalb.”
There were only 13 homicides in 2014, which was the first year of the consolidated Macon-Bibb County government. Twenty people were slain here in 2016 and 28 in 2015.
Up until the afternoon of May 9, when there were 69 total killings since consolidation, only five of them remained unsolved. That was the day the manager of First Neighborhood apartments went to check on Vivian Puente-Napoles. Neighbors had not seen her in a week.
The 63-year-old was found with her neck cut in a bloody scene inside her east Macon apartment.
The killing is one of a dozen homicides in 2017 that remained unsolved near the year's end.
“We’re circling the wagons on some folks on a lot of them,” Sheriff David Davis told The Telegraph recently. “Each one of them has their elements of difficulty.”
Four people are charged with murder this year in the slayings of family members.
Tenita Shoats is charged with murder in the shooting death of her husband, Vernon Shoats Sr., inside their west Macon apartment Jan. 22. It was the county’s first homicide of the year.
Three others also would die at the hands of family members in Bibb County this year.
Oscar Freeman Jr. was shot and killed by his cousin, 55-year-old Robert Cummings, during an argument at a house on Pansy Avenue Feb. 4. On Mother's Day, May 14, 67-year-old Benny Bell Jr. shot and killed his 37-year-old daughter, Demetrice, and wounded his wife, Thelma, at their home on Lakeshore Avenue. Antwan Rutherford was shot and killed by his uncle, Darnell Stephens, in an argument at their house on John Kennedy Drive on Aug. 12.
Coincidentally, a father and son were slain just months apart from each other.
Emanuel Stroud Sr., 57, was reported missing in June, about a month before his body was found by tree trimmers on Clark Street July 13. He had been shot in the head. In September, Emanuel Stroud Jr. was among six who were shot by someone at Edwina and Walmar drives on Sept. 17. The 24-year-old died in the hospital.
Two killings are considered justifiable.
Gavin Williams stabbed his neighbor, Vivian Hughes, with a pitchfork at her home on Moncreif Road in Lizella. Williams was shot by a deputy after a SWAT standoff in which he ignored officers orders to stop. Chase Gillis, 16, was shot by a 23-year-old who told investigators Gillis had pointed a gun to his friend’s head when the three met to swap one night in July.
When asked if there was any common thread to some of the killings, the sheriff answered: guns. Guns were used to kill in all but two of the 30 homicides.
Eighteen of the victims were black men. Half of them were younger than 30. The youngest was Jayvon Sherman, the 16-year-old who was gunned down on the way to Central High School early one morning in October.
“You can say it’s a cultural situation, but I think it’s a culture of despair amongst certain individuals," the sheriff said. "They grow up in blighted communities. They grow up with not much educational opportunities, not much job opportunities. There’s like a festering level of, I guess, anxiety or anger that’s in a lot of people. It’s almost like having a constant toothache. "
The sheriff described 19-year-old Wesley Holt, who is charged with Sherman's killing, as someone who "probably has that proverbial toothache all the time."
Holt was convicted of burglary in 2015 and sentenced as a first offender.
Investigators have said Holt's motive for shooting Sherman was robbery.
"It doesn't take much for somebody to pop off," Davis said. "Then, you put a gun in their hands and it's just going to take it to another level."
Laura Corley 744-4334; @Lauraecor