Chicago reached “a tragic number” today, according to Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy: Its homicide total for the year hit 500, the highest annual total since 2008.
The city's latest homicide occurred around 9 p.m. Thursday when Nathaniel T. Jackson, 40, an alleged gang member with a lengthy arrest record, was gunned down outside a store in the Austin neighborhood.
As of Thursday night, homicides were up 17 percent over last year in Chicago and shootings had increased by 11 percent, according to police statistics. Earlier this fall, Chicago already exceeded the number of homicides that occurred last year, but this is the first time the city has had 500 or more murders since the 512 in 2008.
Largely contributing to the spike was the unusual number of homicides that occurred during the early part of the year, when the city experienced unseasonable warmth. In the first three months of the year, homicides ran about 60 percent ahead of the 2011 rate.
The police department went back and forth for much of Friday over whether Jackson was the 500th murder so far this year, at first confirming it, and then denying it, saying a murder last week had been reclassified as a death investigation, therefore making Jackson the 499th homicide. But by late afternoon, the department once again confirmed there had been 500 murders.
McCarthy issued a statement declaring: “The city has seen its 500th homicide for 2012, a tragic number that is reflective of the gang violence and proliferation of illegal guns that have plagued some of our neighborhoods.”
While saying every homicide is unacceptable, he went on to laud the department’s overall crime reduction.
He also said that gang violence reduction strategies the department adopted this year have slowed the increase in violence.
Jackson was shot in the head outside Noah Foods at Augusta Boulevard and Lavergne Avenue, police said. Afterward, police tapped on apartment windows and knocked on doors looking for witnesses.
A few bullet casings, which police believed were from a .45-caliber handgun, were found near the blood-stained sidewalk in front of the store. Police had no motive, and no one was in custody.
Jackson's family sat for three hours in a waiting room at Stroger Hospital when staff members finally walked in and told them Jackson had died. Relatives stood up and exchanged tight embraces.
Jackson grew up on the West Side, a few miles from where he was gunned down, and had been released from prison this past summer after serving a sentence for robbery. He had been shot several years ago, after an earlier stint in jail, and a cousin said she constantly warned him to be careful on the street.
"The last time he was out, someone had shot him several times, in the back," Gave Bates said as she stood outside Stroger Hospital, where Jackson was pronounced dead shortly after midnight. "He was a fighter, he was a survivor."
Bates smiled through tears as she swiped her hand across her phone, flipping through pictures of her cousin playing around and striking goofy poses.
"He was a lot of fun, very good at imitating people," Bates said. "He just had so much fun all the time. And we all grew up together in the same house."
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