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Family members mourn the murdered in St. Louis, after a year full of victims

Family members mourn the murdered in St. Louis, after a year full of victims

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Jeanette Culpepper has organized an annual candlelight vigil for crime victims for more than 20 years, ever since her son was fatally shot.

On Thursday, Fernando Hall Sr. attended his first.

His brother, Calmise Lamarr Hall Sr., 42, was shot to death on Oct. 7. Fernando Hall came to learn something from police about the case, which remains unsolved, but also to learn something from other people who’ve lost a loved one.

“I came to see how they deal with it,” he said before the ceremony Thursday afternoon at Williams Temple Church of God in Christ.

He and other family members attending the annual vigil for the first time were given white candles in glasses marked with the date and the words “Gone But Not Forgotten.” There were prayers, and songs, and speeches.

Hall’s brother was among a spike in homicide victims this year in the metro area. In the city, there were at least 188 murder victims in 2015, an 18 percent increase over 2014’s total of 159. Victims ranged in age from 3 to 69.

At least 66 people were murdered in St. Louis County, a 78 percent increase over 2014, when there were 37 victims. They ranged from 10 weeks to 86.

The cause of the spike has been something of a puzzle. Nationwide, some major cities have also seen a jump, but others have remained consistent or lower.

Criminologists and experts throughout the country have debated the reasons. Some believe the spike is related to a heroin epidemic. Others theorize the “Ferguson effect,” or a decrease in proactive policing due to protests following police shootings, plays a role. And some believe it’s both.

St. Louis officials traveled to Kansas City earlier in 2015 to study an anti-violence program that has garnered attention, but in the end, Kansas City saw a 35 percent jump in homicides for the year.

The Justice Department convened a summit in the fall with mayors and police chiefs, including St. Louis city leaders, to come up with ways to combat the violence.

The total in St. Louis is the highest in 20 years, though much lower than in the early 1990s, when the crack cocaine epidemic contributed to hundreds of homicides in cities nationwide.

With few exceptions, homicide tallies from police departments don’t include deaths that occurred as the result of injuries in a different year, those deemed justified or fatal police shootings. The FBI crime statistics rules require that those be left out.

In St. Louis, there were five killings deemed justified and three fatal police shootings. In St. Louis County, there were three justified killings and four fatal police shootings.

Thursday at the vigil, police officers sat in some pews. Political leaders spoke. Lewis Reed, president of the Board of Aldermen, said the vigil brings back the death of his brother in a shooting when Reed was young.

If the murder and crime rate continue to grow, Reed said, “We know we have not done enough. We have to demand more.”

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said gun laws were too lax, and too many criminals were given probation with no job training or treatment for drug abuse. Judges need to hear from the community, he said, and even one murder is too many.

“I say the numbers don’t matter,” he said. “What matters are the people. ... I hope to work every day to bring closure to the wounds you have today.”

Denise Hollinshed is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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