Editor's note: This story has been updated based on new information provided by the Akron Police Department.

Akron’s first homicide in 2018 happened on the 16th day of the year.

Hedy Moss, 50, shot Ernest Sherman, 55, and James McMullen, 56, about 4 a.m. at a Gold Street home either in self defense or in a dispute over a stolen pistol. Sherman, who was shot once in the head, died. McMullen survived after jumping out of a second-story window.

Sherman's death was the first of 36 homicides so far this year in Akron.

That’s six fewer homicides than in 2017, when the city’s deadliest house fire — an arson on Fultz Street that killed a family of seven — pushed the number of homicides in the city to 42, the highest in decades.

This year, there was no such large-scale tragedy, but a sporadic series of violent incidents that left 28 men, four women and four children dead.

Most — 32 of 36 — were killed by gunfire.

Thursday, police said Akron residents not involved in vice or with domestic issues are safe in their homes.

"Akron is a safe community," Capt. David Laughlin said. "We pride ourselves in that."

To keep it safe, police are aggressively trying to take illegal guns off city streets much in the way they focused on mom-and-pop meth labs a decade ago.

Through Thursday morning, Akron police had recovered 798 guns in 2018, an average of a little more than two per day.

Patrol officers discovered the most recent on Wednesday night after a traffic accident, Laughlin said. The man driving had a suspended license, Laughlin said, and when police tried to have his vehicle towed, they found a handgun under a floor mat.

Traffic stops yielded many of the illegal guns. Akron officers responding to a neighbor’s report of a suspicious van in West Akron Saturday led to the arrest of three men and seizure of three loaded handguns police said they found inside and underneath the van.

Gun seizures

Patrol officers familiar with their districts and the people who live in them are seizing illegal guns, too, Capt. Christopher Brewer said Thursday.

Often, they’ll spy someone walking in sweatpants with something heavy pulling on one side. The patrol officer will know the person has a criminal conviction that makes it illegal for him to carry a gun, Brewer said. The people carrying guns realize police know them, too, and often run when officers try to speak with them, Brewer said.

That can make for dangerous situations, Brewer said, but “our officers are not getting in shooting matches with these guys.”

Many of the guns on the street are hard to trace, Brewer and Laughlin said.

Some are passed down after someone dies. Others are stolen and have changed hands repeatedly. Many were purchased by straw buyers, people who intentionally buy weapons for those they know who cannot, they said.

Straw buying is illegal, but often hard to prove depending on how many times a gun has been traded since the initial purchase.

Despite police efforts, firearm-related incidents in Akron ticked up about 7.8 percent through November compared to the same time period in 2017.

Nonlethal shootings

Akron police reported 417 incidents not involving homicides where firearms were discharged. Those include shootings people survived and shootings into occupied dwellings.

During the same period in 2017, there were 387 incidents, police said.

Many of the shootings into a house or apartment are random, police said. Others have been motivated by retaliation — often for another shooting or drugs or guns — or a domestic issue, including child custody.

Akron’s homicides this year generally followed a similar pattern.

Through December, Akron investigators had disposed of about 68 percent of the cases, either making an arrest or taking a case to a grand jury.

Many homicides involved drugs, gangs or domestic violence where an adult was killed, but there were exceptions, including:

• On Feb. 5, 2-year-old Wynter Parker suffered from hypothermia on the front stoop of her home and died on a day when temperatures never climbed out of the teens. Her parents have since pleaded guilty to child endangering.

• On Feb. 16, 4-year-old Janaya Swain was shot and killed as she waited in a car with family as her mother sought to retrieve her belongings from her ex-boyfriend Darnell Bitting. Bitting has since been found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

• In June, two men — Daniel Jones, 41, and Jerry Jones, 43 — were shot and killed trying to break into other people’s homes seven days apart in unrelated incidents. Neither shooter faced charges connected to the homicides, though one did face charges for having weapons under disability and tampering with evidence. The men who died are not related.

Hedy Moss went to trial in November for the first homicide of 2018. She was also charged with a shooting that night in which a man survived.

A Summit County jury returned a split verdict. Jurors hung on two murder charges and one felonious assault charge against Moss, but found her not guilty of attempted murder, and deemed her guilty of a second count of felonious assault, as well as tampering with evidence and having weapons while under disability.

Moss this month was sentenced to eight years in prison for the convictions. Prosecutors said they plan to re-try her for murder in 2019 for the first homicide of 2018.

 

 

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @agarrettABJ.