Alex Sanchez showed off a fresh haircut and ate quesadillas. He smiled for a selfie with his mother and brother and hugged his niece.
The occasion, a dinner at the old Candlelite Inn in Arlington on the anniversary of his grandfather’s death Feb. 29, was sad, but the mood wasn’t.
“Everything was good at that moment,” said his brother, Andrew Sanchez.
About two hours later, Alex, who would have turned 21 Thursday, was fatally shot in the head on a quiet south Arlington street during what police described as a drug deal gone bad.
He was one of the city’s 12 homicide victims in the first five months of the year — Arlington, with a population of about 380,000, had eight all of last year. The high mark is 26 in 1991.
The increase this year doesn’t necessarily reflect a trend, said Kent Kerley, chairman of the Criminology and Criminal Justice Department at UT-Arlington. Homicide rates are subject to short-term fluctuations, and last year’s total was the city’s lowest since 1993.
“At this point it is far too early in the year to assess how this year will compare with previous years,” Kerley said. “The best approach statistically is to compare each year to at least a 10-year average.”
The city averaged 15.6 homicides a year from 2006 through 2015, according to FBI and Texas Department of Public Safety data.
But this year, police are “very concerned” about how the killings happened, said Lt. Chris Cook, department spokesman. Ten of the 12 victims were killed with guns. Last year, five of the eight homicides were gun-related. Firearms were the cause of 11 of 13 homicides in Arlington in 2014.
“Firearms seem to be the underlying nexus in the majority of our homicides,” Cook said. “We will continue to with Operation Safety Net, which seeks to reverse violent crime trends, focus on known offenders and gang members, and recover stolen guns off the streets.”
After Alex Sanchez’s death and two before that, three people were killed in Arlington in March, two in April and four in May.
The most recent was May 14, when an argument broke out between two men at a home on Covey Lane, near Interstate 20 and Texas 360. Details were scarce, but the spat resulted in Michael Tolbert, 58, being shot multiple times.
Tolbert was taken to a hospital, where he died, and police arrested Charles Bell, 68, at the scene.
Three days earlier, Danny Mills, 37, died after police found him assaulted and unconscious near his apartment in north Arlington.
On May 1, Hugo Castrejon-Hernandez, 25, died after getting shot in the head at a party.
Later that day, Anthony “T.J.” Antell, 35, was shot by a soldier in the parking lot of a Walgreens in south Arlington. Antell, a fitness instructor, had confronted the soldier after he shot his wife, an employee of the store who suffered injuries that weren’t considered life-threatening.
Through the first three months of the year, Arlington’s homicide rate doubled compared with 2015, the second-largest rise among 68 major U.S. cities, according to The Washington Post. Long Beach, Calif., had the largest increase.
Fort Worth had 26 homicides through five months compared to 61 all of last year.
In Arlington, “it’s been some very long hours, some very long nights,” said Lt. Mike Hollier, who oversees the department’s criminal investigations division.
The homicide unit consists of four detectives, a sergeant, a civilian investigator and a secretary. During busy periods — as in March and May — detectives from other units will sometimes help, Hollier said.
“All of the ones we have investigated, we still believe there was some relationship between the victims and the suspects,” Hollier said. “We’re not working any that we believe are strangers as homicide victims. All of them started with some type of disturbance between the suspect and the victim.”
Other than that, Hollier said, detectives haven’t found a trend.
“I wish I could say or explain why these happen,” he said. “In the over 20 years I’ve been a police officer, it’s kind of amazing how humans will find ways to inflict harm on each other.”
Killed in the street
Sanchez’s mother, Renee Davis, still doesn’t understand why her son had to die.
Police say he and two friends went to Fern Meadow Road to buy drugs from Taajon Jabri Richardson, a gang member known as “Yung Rambo.” When they arrived, Richardson noticed Sanchez in the back seat.
Sanchez stepped out, the two talked briefly, and Richardson shot him, the affidavit said.
Nearby residents heard the shot about 11:15 p.m. on Feb. 29, and then found Sanchez lying in the street.
“They told me what he was wearing, how he was laying —everything you don’t want to hear,” Davis said. “But I wanted to make sure he wasn’t suffering.”
Investigators arrested Richardson on March 12 in Irving, and he remains in Tarrant County Jail with bail set at $250,000. A grand jury indicted him on a murder charge last week.
Clearly they were not his friends. They were definitely people he should not have been hanging around.
Renee Davis, mother of Alex Sanchez who was killed Feb. 29.
According to the affidavit, Richardson and Sanchez had a previous drug deal go bad.
Davis, though, said her son was harmless.
He graduated from Trinity High School in Euless in 2014 and worked two jobs at once to make car payments. He wanted to join the Navy this fall and eventually become a firefighter.
Davis said the friends he was with the night of the shooting were a bad influence. He knew them from elementary school in Arlington. The boys lost touch when Davis and her ex-husband moved Alex out of the district.
After high school, he returned to the Arlington area with a new car, and the friends reconnected.
“He was toting around all these kids and all of a sudden they were friends again,” Davis said. “Clearly, they were not his friends. They were definitely people he should not have been hanging around.”
Andrew, his brother, heard about the shooting the next morning. He checked local hospitals, and then met with a detective at a police station.
The detective took Andrew to a morgue, where he identified his brother.
Over the next week, Davis met with investigators, who were still searching for a suspect, and bought her son a casket.
She picked a burial plot in Irving and planned his funeral. She wrote a victim impact statement for court. She learned about National Gun Violence Awareness Day, which falls on Alex’s birthday.
“He may have been 6-foot-2,” her impact statement said, “but he was a teddy bear that still loved to have his back scratched and his head rubbed.”
On her iPhone, she keeps a photo of Alex’s black, rectangular headstone. Etched into one side are small praying hands. On the other is Alex’s senior picture from Trinity.
“That is how I’m going to remember my son for the rest of my life,” Davis said. “He doesn’t have the opportunity to grow up.”