Austin recorded 48 murders in 2020, more than at any other time in at least the last 20 years. That number has now been surpassed. In fact just last week when I wrote that this story was forthcoming, Austin was tied with last year’s total. Since then there have been two more murders, two more lives lost. (There were reports of a third murder, by automobile, but APD does not yet appear to have categorized it as a murder.) And, of course there are almost five full months left in the year.
True to form, political factions in Austin are jousting over what this ongoing tragedy means and, of course, trying to blame each other or make sure their side doesn’t get blamed. For instance Save Austin Now, led by Travis County Republican Party Chair Matt Mackowiak, maintains that the rising murder rate results directly from the Austin City Council’s 2019 vote to defund the police and stop training classes for new cadets — even though the increase in murders and violent crime is taking place in cities across the country, most of whom did not take defund the police actions like Austin did.
Mayor Steve Adler bemoans the violence, but says he doesn’t know the causes. Given that the increase in violent crime is occurring in cities around the country, however, he is certain that the causes are not tied in any way to “local policy decisions” — like his and the Council’s defund the police vote.
Meanwhile, the Austin Chronicle and the Austin Justice Coalition play down the number of actual deaths and argue that people should instead focus on the murder rate per 100,000 population, which doesn’t look as bad.
Also running with the rate approach rather than number of lives lost is Council Member Greg Casar — the undisputed leader of Austin’s defund the police initiative. Casar has taken to emphasizing that Austin is still safer than many big Texas cities. For instance at the May 6 Council meeting, where everyone but Casar and Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper Madison voted to restart police cadet classes, Casar began his speech by reciting a long list of Texas cities with more than 100,000 population that still have higher murder rates than Austin. It sounded sort of like an old time “all aboard” call — if the train was going on a roundabout tour of Texas. Casar called out: “Dallas and Killeen, Houston, Beaumont, Fort Worth, Lubbock, Odessa, Corpus Christi, Waco, Wichita Falls, San Antonio, Mesquite, Amarillo, San Angelo, Midland, Grand Prairie, Edinburg, Arlington, Tyler, Pasadena and likely one or two others.”
That’s all true, as far as it goes. But, is Casar’s new metric for Austin homicides that Austin just stay below the per capita homicide rate of Texas cities who already have higher rates than us?
We will have more on the back and forth between political players later in our three part series. And, we will take a grim deep dive into the data on homicides. Since the beginning of the year the Austin Independent has been compiling data on murders in Austin and will report on a wide range of elements like murder weapons (preview, guns are the most prevalent), gender, age and race of victims and alleged perpetrators, geographical distribution of murders and more.
For our first installment, however, we want to concentrate on the human cost of these murders, with a specific focus on those who have been lost. All of the murders are horrific and it is difficult to pick any out as being worse or more tragic than the others. Just to try to grasp the overall tragedy, however, let’s take a look at a few of the victims.
An Unacceptable Human Cost
One particularly heart breaking case is that of a vibrant young African American woman, 21-year-old Natalia Monet Cox. Cox graduated from Melissa High School north of Dallas in 2018 and enrolled at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin. According to her obituary, “Natalia was a Senior enrolled as a Biology major set to graduate Spring of 2022. Natalia recently decided that her path to serve would be as a Plastic Surgeon to help victims who suffered any type of disfigurements.”
She was an active participant in campus activities, having served as “acting President of the Pre-Alumni Council, sat on the Executive Board of Deeds Not Words, and held a prestigious internship with Texas Parks and Wildlife as a researcher for two years.” As part of her sorority she had recently participated in the delivery of “over 200 COVID-19 protection care packages that included masks, water, hand sanitizer, scarfs, gloves, hats, small blankets, jackets, and pampers” to residents of East Austin.
Then in the middle of the night on March 31 Cox was shot to death in her far Northwest Austin apartment. The alleged killer is a young man who she dated a few times and with whom she had tried to break off relations. According to an APD report, “Callers (to 911) reported what sounded like a door being kicked in. They also reported hearing several gunshots, a woman screaming and hearing someone running, followed by a car leaving in a hurry.” Police later arrested 24-year old Henry Keith Watson Jr.
More recently, on July 12, a young woman was followed home from her job at HEB by a former fellow worker, Aaron David Garza. According to a Statesman account, Garza blocked the young woman’s car in her driveway, then came up to her car and began saying something about looking for his tracking device. She called inside to her mother and step-father. Her step-father, Joshua Cooper came out and asked Garza what he was doing. Garza said he was looking for his tracking device. Cooper then told his wife to call 911.
Before she could make the call Garza pulled a gun and shot Cooper multiple times, killing him. He then came to the driver’s side window of the young woman’s car, pointed the gun at her and pulled the trigger several times, but the gun did not fire. The young woman pushed her way out of the car and tried to run, but Garza began to hit her with his pistol. Her mother then tried to intervene, but Garza hit her over the head with the pistol so hard that the pistol broke. A neighbor then arrived and pepper-sprayed Garza. At that point he fled.
Police later arrested Garza and charged him with murder as well as assault on the mother and daughter. Both the mother and daughter survived, but are sure to have deep, long-lasting emotional scars.
In still another tragedy, the beloved pediatrician, Katherine Lindley Dodson, was murdered at her practice in West Austin by a deranged doctor she did not know. He then killed himself.
A 40-year-old Nepalese man, Ramesh Thapa, was in Austin working at a convenience story and trying to bring his wife and child to Austin. Instead he was shot to death in the parking lot of the apartment complex where he lived on Bluff Springs Road in Southeast Austin. Police arrested a twenty-three year old African American man and said shell casings matched another non-fatal shooting a few nights earlier.
Two-year old Isabella Rios was allegedly killed by her guardians, both Hispanic. The cause of death was blunt force trauma.
Twenty-three year old Garrett Gamond-Hill was shot dead when he answered his door at his home in South Austin, just south of Stassney Lane near Menchaca Road.
Forty-eight year old Marvin Getrelle “Binky” Henson, an African American, was shot and killed shortly after leaving a friend’s house one Saturday night in May, in a neighborhood just southeast of US 183 and Martin Luther King Blvd. Henson was apparently walking home shortly before 11 o’clock. No one has been arrested in his murder.
Forty-five year old Amanda Morris died in a Southeast Austin motel along IH 35. The official cause was trauma to her body. A fact sheet from APD reads like this, “Victim: Amanda Morris | White female | 4/11/1975. 45. Husband White, called police and said he did it, arrested.” The husband’s name is Michael Wells.
Another horrific crime was the triple murder of Alyssa Broderick, her mother Amanda Broderick, and Alyssa’s boyfriend Willie Simmons. Stephen Broderick, Amanda’s ex-husband and Allyssa’ father, is charged with gunning down all three in a northwest Austin parking lot. Broderick is a former deputy with the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. He was already charged with family child abuse at the time of the murder, but somehow was making a custody visit at the shopping center where the murder occurred. He had earlier been required to wear an ankle monitor, but had been released from that by Judge Karen Sage.
Alyssa Broderick was in the Early College Program at Elgin High. Her boyfriend, Willie Simmons, was a standout linebacker on the Elgin High Football team. He was to start playing for the North Texas State Mean Green in the fall. Simmons was one of two college bound football players to die in Austin murders. According to friends quoted in the media, each was known for their hard hitting on the field and their kindness off the field.
The second murdered football player was 19-year-old Javone Montre Hodges. He was murdered at a birthday party on Juneteenth, just after midnight as June 20 began. The suspect arrested by police is another 19 year old, Coolidge Ali Humphries. According to what an attendee, and witness, told police, the dispute was over “unidentified females.” The witness said that after Humphries shot Hodges, he looked “directly” at her while waving a firearm and shouted, “I’ll shoot any motherf—-r in here that looks at me wrong, and I’ll shoot you.” She also told police Humphries stood over Hodges’ body and “appeared to have no remorse for the shooting.”
Javone Hodges had been recruited to play junior college football for Mesabi Range Junior College in Minnesota. A grieving Coach Greg Padgitt, who recruited Hodges, said, “It hurts. It hurts deep. Especially being on Juneteenth. Black on Black crime. Our people, men of color hurting each other. Two families destroyed… A young man that had a very very promising future, academically and athletically, just gone for no reason. Senseless violence.”
Coach Padgitt raises some relevant points which will be part of what delve into as we dive into the data in our next installment.
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