Many of America's most populous cities reported record-breaking homicide totals last year, but much of Northwest Indiana avoided becoming part of that trend.

Gary, which has accounted for a majority of Lake County's homicides since reporting began in 1985, ended the year with six fewer cases than it recorded in 2020.

Gary logged 48 homicides in 2021, or about 54.5% of the 88 homicides reported in all of Lake County, according to police and death records.

It's the second-lowest percentage of Lake County cases Gary has ever reported. The last time Gary reported a lower percentage was in 2011, when it logged 30 of the county's 56 cases, or about 53.6%.

The only Northwest Indiana community that didn't buck the national trend was Hammond, which shares a border with Chicago, Burnham and Calumet City in Cook County.

The Cook County medical examiner's office said earlier this month preliminary data showed it handled 1,087 homicides cases, marking the first time since 1994 that it had seen more than 1,000 cases.

Hammond saw 16 homicides in 2021, up from six in 2020 and nine in 2019, records showed.

The last time Hammond logged more than 16 homicides was in 2000, when the city reported 22, FBI data showed.

Hammond detectives secured charges in half of last year's cases, resulting in a clearance rate of 50%, Lake Criminal Court records showed.

The Lake County/Gary Metro Homicide Unit cleared about 46% of cases in 2021, resulting in a higher clearance rate than the city has seen in years past, Gary police Cmdr. Jack Hamady said.

Of the city's 48 homicides, detectives secured charges in 11 cases, eight were pending review by the Lake County prosecutor's office and three cases were closed for other reasons, such as the death of a suspect, he said.

East Chicago Deputy Police Chief Jose Rivera said police have cleared five of the 13 cases recorded this year, or about 39%.

The city logged 12 homicides in 2020 and seven in 2019. Police recently secured charges in a 2020 homicide, bringing the clearance rate for that year to 100%.

In most of the 2021 cases, detectives discovered the victims knew the suspects, he said.

"It was something personal. Whether it was drugs or not," Rivera said. "Acquaintances, family — whatever the situation may be, they knew the suspects. They weren't just random."

Guns used in 86% of cases

Rising gun violence proved to be one national trend Northwest Indiana didn't buck in 2021.

Gunshot wounds were the cause of death in 86.4% of the 103 confirmed homicides across Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties in 2021, up from about 81% of cases in 2020. The cause or manner of death in three cases in 2021 remained pending.

Firearms were used in 44 of Gary's 48 homicides, 15 of Hammond's 16 cases, 12 of East Chicago's 13 cases, five of Michigan City's six cases and all three of Merrillville's confirmed homicides. Merrillville police did not respond to a request for comment about a possible fourth homicide case, which also involved a gun.

The manner of death also remained pending in a Porter County sheriff's police case, which involved two men whose deaths were caused by gunshot wounds.

Blunt force trauma was a cause of death in eight homicides in 2021, down from nine in 2020. Five people were stabbed to death in 2021, up from three in 2020. In one Michigan City case, a woman died from chemical poisoning, officials said.

The number of children who died by homicide fell in 2021 after rising for three years in a row.

Six children were killed in Northwest Indiana in 2021, down from 15 in 2020, 12 in 2019 and four in 2018, data showed.

Three of the children killed in 2021 died at the hands of family members, according to police and court records.

Darius Whitley, 7 months, died from blunt force trauma March 8 after his mother left him in the care of family member April Gross, 17, records state. Gross was charged with murder, but she subsequently was deemed incompetent to stand trial.

Judah Morgan, 4, of LaPorte County, and Keegan Fugate, 3, of Gary, were killed Oct. 11 and 12, respectively, both shortly after they were returned to the care of their biological parents, court records showed.

The LaPorte County prosecutor's office charged Judah's father and mother in his homicide. The Lake County prosecutor's office filed charges against Keegan's mother and her boyfriend.

Three children were killed by gunfire in 2021, down from five in 2020.

Thomas DeLaCruz
, 13, was shot to death Oct. 31 while trick-or-treating with other children in Hammond's Hessville section. Mark Evans, 16, was shot to death Aug. 27 while driving with an adult passenger in Gary.

Tobigah Goins, 17, of Gary, was fatally shot Nov. 12 in Gary. Two men wounded in an exchange of gunfire with Goins told police the boy had tried to rob one of them.

Two law enforcement officers lost their lives in the line of duty in 2021.

Lt. Eugene Lasco, a correctional officer at Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, was fatally stabbed and another correctional officer was wounded in an attack Feb. 21. The Indiana Department of Correction named a 38-year-old inmate as a suspect, but the inmate has not been charged, online court records showed.

Retired police Officer Richard Castellana, 55, of Tinley Park, was shot to death June 11 when he was ambushed by two men during a bank robbery at the First Midwest Bank branch in Calumet Township, according to federal court records.

Castellana was working as a security guard at the bank. He retired from the Cook County Sheriff's Office in 2019, after 35 years of service.

Besides Lasco's homicide at Indiana State Prison, two inmates died as a result of stabbings inside the facility, according to Indiana State Police and LaPorte County Coroner Lynn Swanson.

Daniel L. Heflin, 30, originally of Goshen, died Jan. 20 after he was stabbed in the head, Swanson said. He was serving a sentence for a murder in Elkhart County. Indiana State Police detectives secured charges against two men, and charges against a third person were pending further review, Indiana State Police Sgt. Glen Fifield said.

Juwan Jones, 25, originally of South Bend, bled to death Oct. 15 as a result of stab wounds, Swanson said. He was serving a sentence for an attempted murder in South Bend, court records showed.

The number of people killed by police fell to two in 2021, down from five in 2020.

Mark Bivins, 28, of Lansing, was fatally shot when he exchanged gunfire with police after a pursuit that started in Dyer and ended with a crash in Munster. A man riding in a vehicle with Bivins was charged with felony unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon and resisting law enforcement.

Alexander Tuzinski, 30, died May 1 after he was shot by Porter County sheriff's police, who entered his South Haven home following a call several hours earlier about a disturbance.

Police said Tuzinski had a gun in his hand. His family has questioned how officers handled the situation. Prosecutor County Prosecutor Gary Germann said in August he had reviewed all reports and body camera footage and determined the shooting was tragic but justified.

Chief: More work to be done

Tuzinski's homicide was the only case recorded by Porter County sheriff's police, but the cause and manner of death for two people remained pending.

Adam Pritchard, 30, and Andrew Howell, 32, were found shot to death Dec. 13 at a home in the 600 block of Grandview Avenue, north of Valparaiso. Cpl. Benjamin McFalls said the case remained under investigation and no further details about the circumstances of the deaths could be released

The Porter County Sheriff's Department recorded zero homicides in 2020 and three in 2019, previously released data showed.

Valparaiso recorded three homicides, up from two in 2020 and zero in 2019, according to city police and the Porter County coroner's office.

"It is important to note that these investigations were not random acts of violence that occurred within our community," police Sgt. Joe Hall said. "Each investigation revealed a connection or association between the victim and his assailant."

Valparaiso police thanked community members for their support during the investigations and offered condolences to the family and friends of each of the victims, he said.

Portage reported zero homicides in 2021, down from one in 2020 and two in 2019.

"Portage is a very safe city where random violence is not something we generally experience," Sgt. Rob Maynard said.

Homicide is often the end result of a high-risk lifestyle, he said.

"Gang membership, participating in the drug trade and substance abuse are the three strongest predicating factors to being the victim," he said. "If you can stay away from those, you’ve made some good lifestyle choices, which will contribute to overall personal safety."

Indiana State Police investigated and secured charges against a woman in connection with a fatal shooting Sept. 27 on the Indiana Toll Road in Lake County.

Hobart recorded two homicides in 2021, up from zero in 2020 and 2019. Police secured charges in both cases, one of which was the shooting death of 75-year-old Region attorney William "Bill" Enslen.

In Michigan City, Police Chief Dion Campbell said his department is "cognizant of the fact that we have much work to do," despite a decrease of one homicide in 2021.

"We collectively understand that our world had become more and more complex," Campbell said. "Instead of pointing fingers, the Michigan City Police Department — along with our elected officials and community members — will be working together to provide solutions and strategies to combat these violent crime trends."

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