Homicides increase in 2021, solved rate high in Vegas area
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Year-end data compiled from multiple agencies in Clark County showed that law enforcement investigated at least 245 homicides in 2021, a newspaper reported.
The total topped 2017, when 264 people were killed including 58 in the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 1 mass shooting at a concert on the Las Vegas Strip.
Police in various jurisdictions in Clark County reported 195 men killed in Clark County last year.
Southern Nevada’s largest law enforcement agency, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, handled 185 of last year’s killings, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
Homicide Lt. Ray Spencer, in a recent interview, attributed the busiest year since he began heading the unit in 2018 to easy access to guns. He cited loaded firearms found in nightstands and cars.
“The access juveniles and criminals are able to get to firearms is concerning,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest reason on what’s driving our homicide numbers is that guns are so easily stolen and accessible.”
Countywide, shootings accounted for nearly 70% of all homicides, according to Clark County coroner and Review-Journal records. Twenty victims were under 18.
Review-Journal data showed at least 41 people were killed by someone they were in a domestic relationship with, including roommates, parents, children, spouses or former partners.
Another nine were children killed in abuse and neglect situations, and 10 people were killed in murder-suicides.
The relationship between the killer and victim remained unknown in 36 cases.
Spencer said child cases stick with him most, including times when children witnessed a parent’s death.
“When I go into these scenes and you see toys in a bedroom and a mom senselessly murdered, it has an impact on anybody who works these scenes,” he said. “What could have been done to prevent it from someone killing another person?”
Spencer is scheduled to retire around May. In his tenure as homicide lieutenant, he said, he is most proud of the investigative work done to identify Liam Husted and arrest his mother.
The San Jose, California, boy’s body was found last May just off state Route 160 in Mountain Springs. After several days seeking public help to identify the boy, his mother, Samantha Moreno Rodriguez, was found in Denver and arrested. She is scheduled for trial in February on a murder charge.
“It haunted me that this could potentially be an unsolved case,” Spencer said.
Nationwide, homicides have increased in at least nine major cities. Spencer said police departments across the country solve an average of 64% of homicides. As of Jan. 1, the Las Vegas police solvability rate for 2021 killings was 91%.
“We’re going to close out the year still with a close to 50% increase in murder rates, but solvability is still going to be over 90%, which is unbelievable,” Spencer said.
Not included in the Review-Journal’s countywide totals were eight cold cases with new developments last year, including four solved by Las Vegas police using advanced DNA technology and a donation from philanthropist Justin Woo.
Among the cases the department investigated last year were seven involving people who died before 2021. Their deaths were not ruled homicides until 2021.
Las Vegas and Henderson police also investigated five overdose deaths as homicides last year, despite the Clark County coroner’s office ruling them accidental deaths.
North Las Vegas police investigated 33 homicides last year, including nine gang-related killings, according to Review-Journal records.
“We’re trying to push for more education with juveniles,” North Las Vegas police Lt. Alex Rodriguez said. “We try to not write citations or put them into the system, but educate them as opposed to booking them in the juvenile system with minor crimes.”
At least two of last year’s gang homicides in North Las Vegas involved juveniles, and several killings were in retaliation for a 2020 New Year’s Eve party shooting that involved rival gangs.
Henderson police investigated 14 homicides last year, based on Review-Journal records.
At High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs, the Nevada Department of Corrections suspected Andrew Hilford in the fatal March stabbing of his cellmate, Isaiah Sharp.
In Laughlin, Oscar Martinez was stabbed to death in March at the Fort Mohave Indian Tribal land. The man arrested in the death, Ethan Bright, was recently ruled mentally competent to stand trial.
Across the board, law enforcement shot fewer people in 2021, the Review-Journal found.
Las Vegas police reported 10 police shootings, six of which were fatal, and one that resulted in a suicide.
North Las Vegas police were not involved in any shootings. Henderson police recorded two, one of them fatal.