The year wasn’t even a week old when a stray bullet found an elderly woman outside her apartment in West Baltimore’s Franklin Square neighborhood. By the time Carolyn McFadden, 73, died two weeks later, she was the fourth woman killed in the first 18 days of January.
Now, as 2020 comes to a close, what seemed to be a brutal but atypical run turned out to be an average month. So far this year, 48 women and girls have been slain, more by far than any other year in the city’s history and double the total of just three years ago, even though the overall number of killings is roughly the same.
Most of the cases remain unsolved. Some of the increase is linked to domestic violence. More women have been implicated in committing violence, which may be another factor in the rise. Yet, overall, Baltimore police identified no specific trends to account for the increase.
“We have not gotten [any indication] that females are being targeted,” Baltimore Police Col. Sheree Briscoe, chief of investigations, said in an interview. “But the lack of regard the perpetrators have ... they are not paying attention that there are children out here, there are women out here. They are just focused on killing, and oftentimes people are caught in the crosshairs of that violence.”
As COVID-19 hit Maryland and restricted movement across Baltimore, some experts feared it would lead to more cases of domestic violence. In fact, 10 of the deaths were domestic incidents, according to Baltimore police data, an increase from seven in 2019 and six in 2018.
Police said there is no indication that fallout from the pandemic is connected to the rise in female victims.
A review of data also shows that women may be getting more involved in carrying out the violence that has plagued the city for years. So far in 2020, nine women have been charged in nonfatal shootings, more than double the number from last year.
A look at the female victims this year underscores the randomness Briscoe noted. They include schoolchildren, mothers, the elderly and even babies.
According to the FBI’s 2019 criminal justice report, a little more than 20% of homicide victims nationwide were women, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has said about half those cases involved domestic violence.
James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, said other big cities tend to have a higher percentage of women homicide victims than Baltimore. But many major cities have seen a drop in the percentage of women victims in recent years, while Baltimore’s has spiked, he said.
Fox, noting that the city’s increase can’t be attributed solely to domestic violence, echoed Baltimore police in saying there are no clear patterns or reasons for the city’s increase.
In general, he said, an increase in crimes by women could account for an increase of them being victims.
“We know there is significant crossover with homicide offenders and homicide victims,” Fox said. “It indicates that they may be more involved in criminal activity. The more they are involved with offenders, it puts them in more risk as being victims.”
But that doesn’t apply to most of the year’s female crime victims, according to police, data and interviews with family and friends.
Her daughter, Kimberly Fleet, who lives in Atlanta, told The Baltimore Sun that little has come of the investigation and it’s unclear whether anyone will be brought to justice. McFadden’s case remains open, according to police.
Fleet called the increase in female homicide victims “unfortunate” and, as in her mother’s death, a sign that people with guns show no respect for life.
“It was a whole messed-up situation,” Fleet said. “It’s fortunate that there were not children there at the time. They don’t have any care about women, children, nobody. Nobody else matters to them.”
Michelle Greer, her aunt, said the family has not heard much about the police investigation.
“This is our first Christmas without her, and that is hard,” Greer said. “Justice has not been served, and we just don’t know that it will be.”
Barmer’s homicide remains open, Baltimore police said.
Asked about the issue of female homicide victims, Greer said, “the lack of respect for females — certainly it is there. But what is the solution to that? How can we stop these killings?”
“This is our first Christmas without her, and that is hard. Justice has not been served, and we just don’t know that it will be.”— Michelle Greer, Shannon Barmer's aunt
The spike among female victims comes as the overall homicide number has stayed flat. While women and girls accounted for one in nine homicide victims on average over the previous two years, this year they account for one in seven.
One of the most horrific cases of the year was one that Baltimore police and prosecutors allege was a domestic violence crime. On June 19, Shiand Miller, 23, and her 3-year-old daughter, Shaniya Gilmore, were shot to death inside a parked car in the Westgate neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore. Miller was eight months pregnant.
Miller’s boyfriend, Devon Sample, was charged with murdering them.
Amanda Rodriguez, the executive director of Turnaround, a domestic violence and sexual assault nonprofit organization in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, said the number of female victims is disturbing and “warrants a deeper dive into the data and information surrounding these cases.”
“Though domestic violence may not have been identified as a factor in all cases, it can be hard to spot sometimes. It isn’t always overt physical abuse,” Rodriguez said. “Victims are often manipulated or coerced by partners into dangerous activities like drug dealing or nonconsensual commercial sex and may not have any history of reporting abuse due to fear of retaliation.”
Baltimore police data show the number of calls for family disturbances and domestic violence incidents fell slightly this year.
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In 2019, the department received 19,140 calls for family disturbances and 16,052 calls for domestic violence incidents, according to the data. As of Dec. 29, the department said it had received 18,081 family disturbance calls and 15,804 domestic violence calls.
Baltimore-area service providers previously warned that victims may be confined with their abusers and can’t reach out.
The 48 women and girls killed is 11 more than last year’s record and represents 15% of all homicides in the city. Baltimore police said they have solved 15 cases involving female victims so far this year, although that total includes 2020 arrests in cases from previous years.
Most of this year’s cases remain unsolved. In August, Kaylah Wade, a 20-year-old woman who lived in Columbia, was killed in a stabbing that left two other women injured, according to Baltimore police.
Wade’s mother, Shauna Morgan, is coping with the trauma of having to put her daughter to rest.
“My heart ached for the women in Baltimore City. Since the death of my daughter, I have learned that people have no remorse for taking a life,” Morgan said. “And with so many murders happening on a daily basis, the homicide detectives are probably overworked with multiple cases.”
The House of Ruth’s 24-hour hotline is 410-889-RUTH (7884). Turn Around’s 24-hour hotline is 443-279-0379. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-SAFE (7233).