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Philadelphia records 500 homicides for second year in a row, a tragic milestone as the gun violence crisis continues

Within this tragic total are mothers and sons; fathers and daughters; entrepreneurs and students.

Meredith Elizalde says her son's name, Nicolas Elizalde, and lights a candle for him at a vigil to honor those lost to gun violence. Nicolas, 14, was shot and killed leaving a football scrimmage at Roxborough High School in September.
Meredith Elizalde says her son's name, Nicolas Elizalde, and lights a candle for him at a vigil to honor those lost to gun violence. Nicolas, 14, was shot and killed leaving a football scrimmage at Roxborough High School in September.Read moreJessica Griffin / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia has recorded its 500th homicide this year, surpassing a bleak milestone for the second year in a row as the city’s gun violence epidemic continues at an unrelenting pace, leaving devastating loss and trauma in its wake.

While the total number of homicides recorded so far this year is slightly lower than last year’s record-breaking total, it’s a loss of human life the city has only twice recorded in its known history, and matches the record of 500 killings set in 1990, at the height of the crack-cocaine epidemic.

Within this tragic total are mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, entrepreneurs and students. The victims were as young as 9 — like little Jamel Parks, fatally shot alongside his father, Jerry, on their way home from a Memorial Day barbecue — and as old as 78.

» READ MORE: During Philadelphia’s deadliest summer on record, just one weekend brings an incalculable level of trauma

Thirty of those killed were juveniles. Seven were 14 years old or younger, their hopes and dreams — of becoming scientists and star athletes, of graduating from high school — cut far too short. Like Jeremiah Wilcox, 13; Nicolas Elizalde, 14; Sincere Zy’Ree, 16.

The deaths, the large majority by gun, extended to every corner of the city, from the depths of Southwest Philadelphia, to the edge of the Northeast. But communities of color, particularly Black and brown Philadelphians whose neighborhoods and schools have long faced disinvestment and been shaped by systemic racism, remained the most affected by the crisis — 84% of people killed or injured in shootings so far this year were Black.

The human toll of just one homicide is incalculable and the trauma cascading, from the mothers forced to bury a child, to the neighbor who witnessed the violence and called 911. Losing a loved one so violently and suddenly can physically and emotionally change a person, research shows, the overwhelming grief affecting everything from the ability to hold a job to relationships with others.

Philadelphia has been plagued by gun violence for decades, but a spike in shootings began in spring 2020, when the coronavirus epidemic upended the city’s social and economic safety nets, and has remained persistent ever since, reaching heights unseen in recent memory. Experts have said it could take years to fully understand what triggered the uptick, which has been seen nationwide.

Less than two hours before city leaders convened to discuss the state of the shootings crisis Tuesday afternoon, at least 50 shots were fired outside a North Philadelphia middle school. One bullet flew through a classroom as children were learning, forcing the school into lockdown. No one was injured.

Inside City Hall, officials said reducing gun violence remains their number-one priority.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said that the violence remains at “unacceptable” levels but that the 7% reduction in homicides over last year and small uptick in shooting cases being solved gives her some hope. So far this year, 23% of nonfatal shootings have been solved, compared with 19% in 2021, and 47% of homicides have been solved, compared with less than 43% last year.

Outlaw also said the department intends to reassign 100 officers previously working administrative roles to street patrols, specifically into four districts in North Philadelphia most heavily affected by violence.

Mayor Jim Kenney, too, said that he was hopeful, but that even one homicide is too many. He again criticized Pennsylvania’s gun laws, saying the proliferation of guns is a driving force in the violence.

“As long as you keep allowing guns to be in people’s hands,” he said, “they are going to use them in bad circumstances.”

The 500th homicide was a 35-year-old man, who was shot in the right thigh in the city’s Ogontz section Sunday afternoon. The man — whom police have not yet identified — was treated at Albert Einstein Medical Center but died from his injuries Monday night. Police had little information to share on the case. No arrest has been made or motive determined.

And just hours after he was shot, a mother of three was killed in her home. Maisah Larkin, 39, was fatally shot by the father of her children in what police have said was an act of domestic violence. Stanley Baptiste, 37, shot Larkin inside the home that they shared in the city’s West Oak Lane section, then fled with their 2-year-old triplets, police said.

Baptiste then dropped his children off at a friend’s house in Lansdale, police said, before fatally shooting himself in his car. Law enforcement safely retrieved the children, and they are with extended family.

According to her LinkedIn profile, Larkin was a professor and epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her family could not be reached Tuesday.

Larkin is one of 42 people killed in domestic-violence incidents this year, a slight uptick from the same time last year and part of a troubling rise in domestic homicides, especially by guns, over the last few years.

Still, arguments remain the top motive behind the city’s homicides, the driving factor in about a third of the killings.

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier said in a statement Tuesday that every person lost to homicide “is much more than a statistic — they are a family member, a friend, a neighbor, and their loss reverberates through entire communities.

“And while all Philadelphians have a role to play in addressing this crisis, City government is central in that effort,” Gauthier said. “I am glad for the considerable investment that the City has made in gun violence prevention, but we cannot treat this as simply another problem. We must treat it as the biggest crisis of our lifetime.”

She called on the mayor to return to hosting weekly updates on the state of gun violence, meet daily to discuss solutions, and expand the number of outreach workers in neighborhoods most affected.