FARGO — Roses, rosaries and candles surrounded a framed picture of Gabriel Perez outside the McDonald’s on Main Avenue Monday, Sept. 24.
“R.I.P. Gabe” was printed on one of the candles.
The 20-year-old Fargo man was shot early Sunday while sitting outside the restaurant at 905 Main Ave., according to police, who identified him as the victim Monday morning.
Perez appears to be the fifth person killed in a criminal homicide this year, the most the city has seen since at least 1985, according to police and FBI records.
At 7:40 p.m. Monday, a SWAT team arrested the man suspected of killing Perez, Miguel Jay Cooley Sr., at a home west of Rochester, Minn., according to Fargo police.
Cooley, 44, of Moorhead, surrendered to SWAT officers after they ordered him out of the home, police said.
Perez’s shooting followed the shooting of another man in a south Fargo apartment just the week before.
Police Chief David Todd told city leaders Monday night that five homicides is “unusual,” but noted that investigators have established that the perpetrators and victims knew one another in several cases and he expects that eventually they will find that to be true for all of the cases.
He told The Forum such homicides are easier to comprehend than truly random ones. “Whereas something that seems to be random, I think people – they wonder about that and that perhaps puts a little more fear in their mind as to, ‘Could I be the victim of a random crime like that?’”
Uptick in homicides
The FBI’s online statistics, available for 1985 through the first half of 2017 - 1991 data was missing - and Fargo police statistics, available for more recent times, show there have been at least 44 homicides in Fargo over that time. Based on how the city defines them and then reports them to the FBI, these are criminal homicides, including murders, that are deliberate rather than the result of negligence.
Of these, half happened after 2011, suggesting that while only a handful of homicides happen each year, their numbers have crept up in recent years. In earlier years, the city would often see two or three years in a row without a homicide. Since 2012, there has not been a year in which there were less than two homicides.
Despite the rapid population growth the city has seen since the 1980s, the homicide rate has also ticked upwards. The average homicide rate since 1985 was 1.4 per 100,000, but since 2012 it’s been 2.7.
Moorhead has reported 17 homicides since 1985, with an average rate of 1.4 per 100,000. The number of homicides has fluctuated between none and two. There have been none so far this year, according to police.
Killed by those they know
The first of Fargo’s five homicides was the beating death of Jarryd Heis, 32, in early March. He had been drinking with the man accused of murdering him, Daniel Habiger, 29. Habiger is awaiting trial.
In early May, Ginny Lubitz, 36, of West Fargo, allegedly drowned her newborn baby at a friend’s Fargo home. She is awaiting trial on murder charges.
In early June, Louis Averson fatally shot his wife, Ila Averson, and he shot himself, but survived. The pair, both 85 and in ill health, had reportedly written a will together and agreed to commit suicide. Murder charges were dropped when prosecutors agreed Louis Averson, who suffers from a major neurocognitive disorder, lacked the capacity to understand the legal proceedings against him.
Last week, the body of Kevin Riley Sr., 60, was found in the apartment he shared with his son. The coroner determined he had been beaten and shot. His son, Christopher Riley, 34, has been charged with murder, but remains on the loose.
In Perez’s shooting, police reported he was sitting on a curb outside the restaurant about 5:23 a.m. Sunday when a man drove up in a Chevrolet Trailblazer and shot him several times. He managed to run away but collapsed and died within about 100 feet.
There was a stabbing death at a hotel in early September in which Alan J. Bear, 22, stabbed Jakob Dirks, 23, killing Dirks. Police later released Bear upon learning he was defending himself against an attempted robbery by Dirks and two others. Todd told The Forum that’s not counted by police as a criminal homicide as it was justifiable.
Asked by a city commissioner Monday if he needed more resources to combat crime, Todd said he appreciates the support he has received from city leaders in the nearly four years he’s been chief, including the 30 additional staff members his department has been authorized. He noted that the city is holding even on personal property crimes.
These are much more common crimes than homicide or other violent crimes. In 2017, police reported 575 burglaries, a 2 percent increase from 2016; 791 shoplifting incidents, an 18 percent decrease; 209 vehicle thefts, a 12 percent decrease; and 365 thefts from vehicles, a 15 percent decrease.