Chapel Hill police chief concerned about spike in shootings

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Friday, January 13, 2023
Chapel Hill Police chief concerned about spike in shootings
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Chapel Hill Police are investigating two homicides so far this year; an unusually high number for a town that reported five homicides in all of 2022 and none as recently as 2020.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- In just one week, Chapel Hill's homicide count is up to nearly half of what it was in all of 2022.

Police are investigating two homicides so far this year; an unusually high number for a town that reported five homicides in all of 2022. Police investigated one homicide in 2021 and none in 2020.

Since Monday, three shootings in the town left two dead, one injured, and police searching for suspects in all three cases.

"We're really thankful in Chapel Hill that we don't usually have high gun violence. Unfortunately, these spikes do occur. And definitely, you know me as a community member, it raises this sense of concern," said Chapel Hill Police Chief Celisa Lehew.

Lehew said the shootings were not random or connected and appear to be isolated incidents.

The first shooting occurred Monday at 5 p.m. at the 1100 block of Highway 54. Police said a driver shot into another car and left a passenger with a non-life-threatening injury.

Later that same night, police received a 911 call from the 300 block of S. Estes Drive Extension.

"I need someone to come, please. He's not responding to me," the caller said, according to 911 calls obtained by ABC11.

A female caller told the 911 operator she was inside and found the victim, who she knew, unresponsive and bleeding in the parking lot of her apartment complex.

"He's bleeding. He's bleeding a lot," the caller told the 911 operator.

Police reported Oxford resident 27-year-old K'son Thorpe died from a gunshot injury.

Then on Thursday, Chapel Hill police officers responded to another fatal shooting at 2:30 p.m. at the Chapel Ridge apartments on the 600 block of North Heritage Circle. The apartment complex advertises itself as student housing online. Police reported the victim was Durham resident Marcus Anthony Smith, 24. He was not a UNC student.

"I think it's very unfortunate that these two homicides occurred and definitely our thoughts and love go out to all those affected. This is a time for the community to come together, and we'll continue to grow and learn from these experiences," Lehew said.

Both fatal shootings took place within three miles of UNC's Chapel Hill campus. On Friday, many students had not heard of the shootings and were relatively unfazed by the crime.

"I feel like you're going to get that anywhere there is a big population," said Emma Little, a UNC freshman.

Sophomore Thomas Gatewood said he feels safe most of the time and has confidence in the local police.

Chief Lehew said crime reduction and management remain a top priority of hers and the department.

"We will continue to look at these incidents. They're very new, and, you know, look at ways to moving forward, how we can prevent these," she said.

Lehew said she is hoping to achieve this goal by connecting further with the community.

"I really believe that communication is power and building relationships is so important. And you know, the power of love and getting out and knowing each other and having that open communication is really important as we continue to build the legacy that we have, those relationships will continue to be a priority," Lehew said.

Police have still not made arrests in any of the shootings.

Anyone with information should call 911 or contact the Chapel Hill Police Department at 919-968-2760 (8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday). Callers who wish to remain anonymous can call Chapel Hill-Carrboro-UNC Crimestoppers at (919) 942-7515 or visit https://chapelhillcrimestoppers.com/