City sees two homicides; investigations continue

New Haven registered its first two homicides of the year last week amid an uptick in armed robberies.

Ending more than two months without a murder, the homicides followed a year of decreasing Elm City violent crime: In 2012, homicides dropped 50 percent and overall shootings fell 30 percent from their 2011 highs. While the first of the two murders remains unresolved, the New Haven Police Department concluded a four-day investigation into one of the two homicides that took place last week on Sunday, arresting two suspects they linked to the second murder.

“A loss for any family is a loss for all of us in this family, and the New Haven Police Department feels that loss,” NHPD Chief Dean Esserman said.

After receiving reports of gunfire at the Dunkin’ Donuts at 295 Blake St., dispatched police officers located Lonni Star, 29, suffering from a gunshot wound, just after 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 23. Star, a New Haven resident, was taken to Yale-New Hospital, where he was later pronounced deceased.

Investigators soon learned Star had been shot in the area of Level and Lodge streets, a four-minute drive from the location where the victim’s body was found. NHPD spokesman David Hartman said a friend of Star, who was in the passenger seat of a car Star was driving, got behind the wheel and drove to Blake Street, where she later called the NHPD to report the incident.

After an investigation that involved roughly 50 detectives from the NHPD Major Crime Division and Bureau of Investigation, two teenage males were taken into custody for Star’s murder.

The first arrest took place just few hours after the shooting, around 4:00 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24. Following tips leading to a 17-year-old, police arrested the teen in his house at 41 Lodge St. and charged him with the crime of felony murder.

A second suspect was taken into custody late Sunday afternoon for his involvement in the shooting, Hartman said. The suspect, also a 17-year-old New Haven resident, was charged with multiple crimes including felony murder, conspiracy to commit felony murder, carrying a dangerous weapon and robbery in the first degree

Police have not disclosed the names, residential addresses and photos of either of the two youths arrested for the Dunkin’ Donuts shooting because they are minors, Hartman said.

Wednesday’s homicide was the second in less than 48 hours. Roughly one day before, at around 10:50 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 22, NHPD officers responded to a report of gunfire inside Orchard Market, a convenience store located at 838 Orchard St., Hartman said. When the officers arrived at the scene, they found the store’s clerk, Abdul L. Rawas, 55, suffering from gunshot wounds to his back and arm. Rawas was taken by ambulance to Yale-New Haven Hospital and was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.

While Star’s murder saw a relatively swift resolution, the investigation into Rawas’ death is still ongoing and no suspects have been identified. Detectives are currently reviewing the surveillance footage from the store’s cameras, Hartman said.

Both homicides seem to have originated from robbery attempts gone awry, Hartman said. New Haven has seen a noticeable uptick in the number of armed robberies in recent weeks, according to police records. Between Jan. 1–19, there have been a total of 52 reported robberies — almost double the number of robberies from the same period last year.

Yet, because of the uneven distribution of homicides and robberies over any span of time, it is not possible to establish a pattern within one single month, said Mark Abraham ’04, executive director of DataHaven, a nonprofit organization that compiles public statistics for the New Haven Greater Area.

“It’s hard to pick out trends from small numbers,” Abraham said. “And it’s even harder to detect what drives the change: whether it’s driven by economics or simply more people reporting robberies.”

At this time last year, the city had recorded no murders, en route to a three-year low of 17 homicides.

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