Browse the map of OKC homicides
Nearly two-thirds of Oklahoma City homicide victims are minorities, and the majority of all Oklahoma City homicides involved firearms, a crime data analysis from the past four years shows.
The Oklahoman collected information on Oklahoma City homicides from 2007 to 2010, looking at the race, age, gender and cause of death for homicide cases. The analysis also examined where and when all 266 homicides occurred, with a map showing most homicides occurring in an area east of the state Capitol, south of downtown and in sections of north Oklahoma City.
The analysis showed about 44 percent of homicides in that time frame had victims who were black, the single largest group of victims represented. Nearly 67 percent of the cases involved firearms. And three-quarters of the cases had male victims.
The average age of a homicide victim: 30.2 years.
A homicide is defined as any case where one person takes another person's life. This can include murder, manslaughter, accidental deaths and justifiable homicides.
Demographics of death
One area that stands out is the disproportionate number of minorities who are homicide victims.
While 44 percent of homicide victims in the time period studied were black, only 14.1 percent of Oklahoma City's population is black, U.S. Census Bureau statistics show.
Whites make up 67.7 percent of the city's population, census data show, but only 34.2 percent of homicides in the four-year span studied.
Hispanics, who make up 14.7 percent of Oklahoma City's population, accounted for 16.2 percent of the city's homicide victims.
Another finding: 76.3 percent of homicide victims are male, and 66.9 percent of all homicides were caused by gunshot wounds. The second-most common cause of homicides was stab wounds (12.4 percent).
Gangs, drugs a common theme
Although police records did not indicate whether drugs or gangs were involved, the root of most homicides is drug and gang activity, police and other experts said.
“A lot of the homicides you see are involved with a drug deal or gang life,” Oklahoma City police Master Sgt. Gary Knight said. “Anywhere you have a concentration of drug sales and gang life, you're going to see a higher homicide rate.”
Kyle Eastridge, a former Oklahoma City police homicide detective and now a private investigator, said drugs, gangs and greed fuel much of the violence in Oklahoma City's poorer neighborhoods, which also tend to have the most killings.
Turf wars turn to gunplay, and even if the intent is not to kill, it sometimes turns out that way, Eastridge said. And where there's one gang-related death, more are likely to follow.
“It's a never-ending cycle,” he said. “You'll have in the beginning of the year a killing, and then it goes back and forth.”
Gang rivalries and drugs deal gone bad illustrate one point Eastridge said is true of most murders: Risky behavior can lead to deadly results.
“The cold reality is there aren't many people who are killed who aren't trying to get killed,” he said. “Most people who are murdered work really hard at getting that way.”
Even being associated with gang members and people involved in drugs can take lives, he added.
But while common, gang- and drug-related killings are often the hardest to solve. Fear of reprisal stops many witnesses from coming forward.
“They're all forensics,” Eastridge said. “If you don't have forensics, you don't have a case because no one will talk to you. They're scared.”
Domestic and family violence
While gangs and drugs fuel most homicides, domestic troubles also rank high in the causes of why people kill, Eastridge said.
Heated emotions between spouses or other love interests sometimes explode.
“In domestic cases, you have passion that's overwhelming,” Eastridge said.
Similarly, crimes against children are, at times, lethal. In the time period studied, Oklahoma City recorded 11 cases of child abuse deaths, or roughly 4 percent of all homicides. Nearly 8 percent of all homicides studied involved victims age 10 or younger, the analysis shows.
Eastridge said two elements are usually a part of child deaths: Someone other than a blood relative, such as a new boyfriend, is involved, and drugs.
“These people have no ability to deal with a child,” he said. “I saw a couple of cases where children were just brutally beaten. Both of those cases involved someone who was not a blood relative. It seems once they go over that line, they go over the edge – kicking, stomping (on the child).”
While many crimes fall into easily recognized categories, others are more random.
“We know what the most likely reasons are,” Knight said. “But the reasons people kill people run the gamut.”
Knight cited the Juli Busken case as an example. The 21-year-old ballet student was killed by a man she didn't know or otherwise didn't have any connection to her. She was abducted from her Norman apartment complex on Dec. 20, 1996, and the case took a decade to resolve.
“Those random killings are often the hardest to solve,” Knight said.
Medical care cuts down lethality
While homicides continue to pile up in Oklahoma City, the number of people killed now is actually down from years past, especially when the city's growing population is considered.
In 2010, the city had 60 homicides, seven less than in 1972, according to Oklahoma City police records.
Even in a more violent year, such as 2009's 75 killings, the number is far less than the 102 homicides in 1979, police records show.
When combined with Oklahoma City's growth, the numbers become more stark. In 1970, Oklahoma City had about 368,000 people, census statistics show. The latest population estimates for Oklahoma City, from 2009, put the city at more than 560,000.
Advances in medicine, particularly in trauma care, have had a big impact on the survivability of potentially deadly assaults, Knight said.
“In 1972, if you get shot in the chest, two guys in a station wagon with a first-aid kit are going to take you to a hospital,” he said. “Now, we have OU Medical Center, which is a Level 1 trauma center.”
Time of year
In the four-year time period studied, November had the highest percentage of homicides at 12 percent, followed by April at 10.2 percent. Knight said homicides generally don't follow seasonal patterns, but they tend to drop in cold snaps.
“During an ice storm, you're more unlikely to see a homicide than you would on a warm, summer night,” Knight said.
The least deadly month: January, with just 5.3 percent.
Browse the map of OKC homicides