U.S. Murder Rate for 2018 Is on Track for a Big Drop

The murder rate in the United States in 2018 is on track for the largest one-year drop in five years.

The numbers obviously aren’t final, and the F.B.I. won’t formally report 2018’s murder figures until September 2019.

But based on a comparison of 2017 data and 2018 data for 66 large American cities (population over 250,000), we can observe the trend as it is occurring and offer a reasonable forecast. (The 2018 data I’ve collected is available here).

Murder rose 23 percent nationally between 2014 and 2016 before leveling off in 2017. Major increases in murder in Chicago and Baltimore received much of the national attention, but the increase occurred throughout the country.

In the cities in which data is available, murder has been down about 7 percent on average this year relative to the same point in 2017.

Estimating national trends from a sample of cities can be tricky because big cities tend to overstate national trends. If murder is up substantially in big cities, you can typically expect that the national murder rate is also up, but a little less so. And if murder is substantially down in big cities, you can usually expect a smaller drop nationally.

The Brennan Center in 2017, for example, found a 4.4 percent decline in 29 large cities for which data was available. Yet the F.B.I.’s national murder count was essentially unchanged in 2017 relative to 2016. (It was officially down 0.7 percent, but that was because the F.B.I. revised 2016’s murder total upward, to 17,284 from 17,250.)

The sample of cities we’re using in this article accurately predicted the movement of the national murder change every year but 2002, when murder was down 1.4 percent in the big cities but up 1.1 percent nationally. On average, the sample of cities overstated the national trend by 2.4 percentage points.

If these big cities end the year down about 7 percent from 2017, and if big cities tend to overstate the national trend by about 2.4 percentage points on average, murder should be down by around 4 percent to 5 percent nationally this year.

So far this year, murder in Chicago is down 17 percent in 2018 relative to 2017, accounting for about a third of the drop in the sample. Murder is also down substantially in cities like Baltimore; Charlotte, N.C.; Louisville, Ky.; and Memphis, which all experienced large rises in murder from 2014 to 2016/2017.

The murder rate in Las Vegas is roughly even this year, according to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, although this does not count the mass shooting outside Mandalay Bay in 2017 that left nearly 60 people dead. Including those numbers — as the F.B.I. did in 2017 — would increase the drop in murder in the sample of cities by about a percentage point.

It’s usually better to take a longer view in assessing murder trends. Far fewer people are murdered each year in the United States relative to the 1980s and 1990s. But murder remains up relative to just a few years ago.

If murder falls about 4.5 percent nationally this year, the murder rate of about 5 per 100,000 will roughly be in line with 2009’s rate and half of what it was in 1980, the highest U.S. murder rate on record. The accompanying chart shows what the national murder rate since 1960 would look like with a 4.5 percent drop in 2018.

Tracking the change in murder nationally is far easier than explaining why it’s happening. There is still no consensus on why murder rose nationally in 2015 and 2016, though various theories have been proposed, including simple randomness. Similarly, a projected drop in murder in 2018 would not have an obvious cause. Employment of smarter technologies, expanded community intervention programs, and even colder weather could help explain year-to-year local changes.

What’s more clear is that the country is moving toward the largest national drop in murder since a 3.6 percent decline in 2013.

Note: Data was available through at least October for 48 cities, through September for 58 cities and through at least June for 64 cities. Murder counts came from official sources in 62 of the cities; media sources provided data for three cities; and I maintain a running tally of New Orleans murders.

Jeff Asher is a crime analyst based in New Orleans. You can follow him on Twitter at @Crimealytics.

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Doctor Killed in Chicago Was Committed to ‘Serving the Underserved’

Before she was shot and killed outside the Chicago hospital where she worked, Dr. Tamara O’Neal was an endlessly persistent physician who was devoted to making sure her patients felt cared for, her colleagues said.

Dr. O’Neal, an emergency room physician at Mercy Hospital, south of Chicago’s downtown, sometimes had trouble disconnecting herself from work when she was off duty, said Dr. Adele Cobbs, the hospital’s assistant director for the Emergency Department. Dr. O’Neal would often call during her free time just to check that her patients were healthy, she said.

“She felt very strongly about serving the underserved,” Dr. Cobbs said. “Being an emergency room physician was a way to reach the masses.”

On Monday afternoon, when Dr. O’Neal left the hospital, she encountered a man who family and colleagues identified as her former fiancé, and the two got into an argument. When someone in the hospital parking lot intervened, the man lifted his shirt and showed a handgun, the police said. Then he opened fire, they said, killing Dr. O’Neal.

As he exchanged gunfire with police officers, he ran into the building, prompting a frenzy of hospital workers and visitors running for cover. In addition to shooting Dr. O’Neal, the gunman killed Samuel Jimenez, a father of three who had joined the Chicago Police Department last year, and Dayna Less, 25, a first-year pharmacy resident, the police said.

The gunman also died, but officials were uncertain whether the fatal shot had come from the police or by his own gun.

Jennifer O’Neal, Dr. O’Neal’s sister-in-law, said she was a deeply Christian woman who was adored by her nieces and nephews. Dr. O’Neal would plan elaborate outings for the kids, she said, getting them off their parents’ hands by taking them to museums, plays and movies.

Their family is tight-knit, Ms. O’Neal said, so any outsider who started dating a family member would be properly introduced. Dr. O’Neal’s family knew her fiancé, whom they identified as Juan Lopez. Police would not release his name to the public.

The couple had planned to marry in October, Ms. O’Neal said. But she said that before the wedding, Dr. O’Neal decided he was not right for her.

“She looked at what she wanted for her lifetime,” she said. “Making a covenant with God for marriage, she had to look at the whole picture. The whole picture wasn’t for her.”

Dr. O’Neal had worked at Mercy for about a year and a half, colleagues said. Before that, she received residency training at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago.

During their residency training, Dr. John Purakal, who now works at University of Chicago Medical Center, said Dr. O’Neal had a bright, joyful personality that would often help cheer up the other residents. But when a critical patient rolled in, Dr. O’Neal would flip a mental switch and start operating as a sharply focused physician, he said.

On Monday, Dr. Purakal was on duty when Dr. O’Neal entered the emergency room, having been transported from her own hospital. “After I recognized her it was really difficult to actually do my job effectively,” he said, so another doctor took over.

During Dr. O’Neal’s undergraduate education at Purdue University, she studied psychology, volunteering as a mentor for at-risk teenagers.

In an interview with The Chicago Sun-Times, her father, Tom O’Neal, remembered his daughter telling him that a professor at Purdue said she would not be able to become a doctor.

“That drove her,” Mr. O’Neal said. “She proved him wrong.”

Dr. O’Neal’s father, who lives in northwest Indiana, called his daughter a “stronghold” in their family.

She had worked out a deal with her supervisors to make sure she did not work on Sundays so she could attend church with her family, said Dr. Patrick Connor, the director of the hospital’s Emergency Department. Dr. Connor said Dr. O’Neal loved her church community and directed its choir. Every week, she would drive from Chicago to La Porte, Ind., where her family and church reside.

She was also close with her team members at the hospital, Dr. Cobbs said. Once, when Dr. Cobbs’s father was a patient at Mercy, Dr. O’Neal visited him, sitting at his bedside and holding his hands while comforting her colleague.

The team was so close that they would go on weekend outings — often organized by Dr. O’Neal, Dr. Cobbs said. She often brought along her fiancé, colleagues said.

To many, Dr. O’Neal’s killing was a stark reminder of the mortal danger that intimate partners can pose. Several notorious shootings — including the one in Sutherland Springs, Tex. — have been rooted in domestic disputes.

A group of doctors, including Dr. Purakal, set up an online fund-raiser to raise money for Dr. O’Neal’s funeral expenses; the rest of the money will be directed toward researching gun violence relating to interpersonal conflict.

Dr. Connor said none of Dr. O’Neal’s colleagues had seen any red flags in their relationship, but after the shooting, they found themselves wishing they had asked more questions.

On the day Dr. O’Neal was shot, hospital employees recalled that she was in good spirits, Dr. Cobbs said.

“It was comforting to know that on her last day of service as a physician, people described her as extremely happy,” she said. “Though it comforts us, it saddens us that someone could take that away from her.”

Follow Julia Jacobs on Twitter: @juliarebeccaj.

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Egyptian Sentenced to Death in Killing of Christian Doctor

CAIRO — An Egyptian man accused of supporting the Islamic State was sentenced to death on Saturday in the fatal stabbing of an 82-year-old Christian doctor in Cairo.

Prosecutors said the killing in September 2017 happened when the 40-year-old defendant requested to see the doctor, pretending to be a patient.

The man, who was not identified, started stabbing the doctor when he was shown into the clinic’s examination room, and then stabbed the physician’s assistant as she intervened to try to stop the attack, officials said.

Prosecutors said the defendant had embraced the extremist ideology of the Islamic State. The local affiliate of the group has targeted Egypt’s minority Christian population as punishment for its support of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has cracked down on Muslim groups since taking power after the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

The Islamic State in Egypt has expanded an insurgency that started in the Sinai Peninsula in recent years to include attacks on Christians in churches and major cities and outside monasteries.

Earlier this month, the militant group said it was behind an ambush on two buses in which gunmen fatally shot dead at least seven Coptic Christian pilgrims and wounded at least 16 others. The attack came after a nearly yearlong lull in major attacks on Copts in Egypt.

The two buses were carrying pilgrims left the Monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor, 85 miles south of Cairo, in Egypt’s Western Desert.

In November 2017, dozens of militants opened fire on a mosque in Sinai affiliated with the Sufi strain of Islam — which extremists view as heretical — killing at least 311 people, in the deadliest act of terrorism in Egypt’s modern history.

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Chris Watts of Colorado Pleads Guilty to Murdering Pregnant Wife and 2 Daughters

When his pregnant wife and two daughters went missing this summer, Christopher Watts went on television and begged for their return. “Shanann, Bella, Celeste, if you’re out there, just come back,” he pleaded.

When the police investigation narrowed in on him as a suspect, he tried to turn the blame on his wife, claiming it was she who strangled their daughters — and that he strangled her out of rage.

Now, Mr. Watts, 33, of Frederick, Colo., has admitted that he killed his wife and two children.

On Tuesday, Mr. Watts pleaded guilty to nine criminal counts — including murder, the unlawful termination of a pregnancy and tampering with a dead body — in exchange for an agreement that prosecutors would not pursue the death penalty, according to the Weld County district attorney’s office.

Mr. Watts’s wife, Shanann, was 15 weeks pregnant when she and their two daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, disappeared. The case drew national attention but came to a heart-wrenching end when their bodies were found on an oil site — and Mr. Watts was arrested.

Michael J. Rourke, the Weld County district attorney, said at a news conference on Tuesday that he agreed not to seek the death penalty at the request of Ms. Watts’s family.

Under the agreement, Mr. Watts will serve consecutive life sentences for each of the three deaths.

“He deserves a life sentence for each and every act on top of one another,” Mr. Rourke said. “It was important that each of those beautiful human beings be reflected in the ultimate sentence that will be imposed.”

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 19.

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The Colorado public defender’s office, which was appointed to represent Mr. Watts, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

After Ms. Watts and her daughters went missing on Aug. 13, Mr. Watts stood on his porch in Frederick, Colo., and pleaded in an interview with Denver7 for them to come home.

“If somebody has her, just bring her back,” he said. “I need to see everybody, I need to see everybody again. This house is not complete without anybody here.”

But the police learned that Mr. Watts had been having an affair with a co-worker and had told his wife he wanted to separate during an emotional conversation the day she went missing, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

Mr. Watts soon had a new story: He told the police that he had seen, via the family’s baby monitor, his wife strangling their daughter Celeste, and that their other daughter, Bella, was lying on her bed and appeared blue. He said he went into a rage and strangled his wife, the affidavit said.

While he then claimed that he did not kill his daughters, he confessed to dumping their bodies in oil tanks and burying their mother nearby, the police said.

Mr. Rourke, the district attorney, said investigators did not know if they would ever get a full and accurate statement from Mr. Watts.

But he said: “The spotlight that he tried to shine on Shanann, falsely, incorrectly and frankly a flat-out lie, has been corrected.

“The spotlight shines directly where it belongs — on him.”

Follow Sarah Mervosh on Twitter: @smervosh.

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