LYNN — Pedro Carrillo was sitting outside an apartment building on Curwin Circle when a man came up and shot him in the head as his mother looked on in horror.
The next night, a man was stabbed to death in a Union Street rooming house where police found the victim bleeding from the chest in an apartment.
The pair of killings on that first weekend of August were the city’s 10th and 11th homicides this year. That’s the most since 1994, when there were 14 homicides, according to the Lynn Police Department. Records from the FBI confirm this has been the second bloodiest year in the city since they began keeping records in 1960.
“It’s very distressing, even the loss of one life is unacceptable,” said Lynn Police Chief Michael Mageary. “I’ve lived in Lynn for 55 years. My wife, children and parents live here and I take this personally. It’s certainly not the way I wanted to start my tenure as chief.”
Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett declined to be interviewed. In a statement, the DA said he is troubled by the number of murders in Essex County.
“While there is no discernable pattern or connection among them, many are related to drugs in some fashion,” he said.
In 2007 and 2008, there were six murders each in Lynn, the highest numbers in the 2000s. In 1991, there were a dozen homicides, according to police. Since 1960, there have been 199 homicides, according to FBI and Lynn Police data.
Essex County Sheriff and former Lynn Police Chief Kevin Coppinger said the spike in the murder rate in the 1990s stemmed from the crack cocaine epidemic.
“Many of the murders that year were drug-related with a war being played out in the streets,” he said.
Mageary said the accessibility of guns, the blatant disregard for human life, and perpetrators who have no fear of consequences, has contributed to the high murder rate.
“These acts do not reflect the values we hold in this city,” he said.
Murder rate climbs as police struggle with budget cuts
He said it hasn’t helped that the department has seen an 11 percent decline in the force over the last few years as the number of officers has dropped to 169, from the peak of 190.
“We have been sounding the alarm for the last several years about budget cuts and the loss of manpower,” Mageary said. “That said, more cops on the beat can’t guarantee fewer murders.”
A handful of initiatives, including the Community Liaison Team, which put officers on bicycles, a Warrant Task Force which targeted violent offenders, and the gang investigation unit have been disbanded due to budget cuts.
“When all those units were around, our numbers were down because we targeted those individuals,” Mageary said. “But we simply don’t have the resources.”
He is anticipating several officers will be going on disability or retiring this year. New hires will be challenging in this budget environment, he said.
While killings are up, other crime is down
Still, despite the cuts, with the exception of homicides, every category of crime is down from a year ago.
From January 1 through July 31, rape is down 64 percent, burglary has decreased by 30 percent, larceny slipped by 26 percent, robbery fell by 22 percent, motor vehicle theft dropped by 16 percent, and assaults are down 12 percent, according to the Lynn Police Department.
When asked to explain how crime could be down so dramatically, Mageary said, “It’s perplexing. How can it be explained? I don’t think a social scientist could explain it.”
James Alan Fox, professor of criminology at Northeastern University, has one explanation. He said if police can’t find a common denominator, such as a serial killer, gang warfare or a drug war, the dramatic rise in murders is an anomaly.
“Unless there is a commonality, this series of unrelated and different murders in Lynn are an aberration,” he said. “And what goes up must come down. I suspect the murder rate will be lower next year.”
Gina Curcio, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Salem State University and a Lynn resident, said the Essex County DA may be onto something when he suggested drugs may be behind many of the killings.
“While gang-related violence has decreased significantly over the last decade, drugs on the streets have increased,” she said. “Heroin and drugs in general are an issue here and they can play a big role in violent crime and disputes can often lead to murder.”
Still, Curcio acknowledged it is too early to know whether the increase in homicides is a random uptick or the beginning a new drug war,” she said. “Researchers need several years of data to determine that and it’s too early to say.”