Fort Worth

Homicides rise in 2016 in four-county area of North Texas

Euless remembers slain officer, reacts to shooting

As residents honored officer David Hofer with candles, signs and flowers at the Euless Police Department, residents said they were shocked and horrified by Tuesday's shootout at J.A. Carr Park.
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As residents honored officer David Hofer with candles, signs and flowers at the Euless Police Department, residents said they were shocked and horrified by Tuesday's shootout at J.A. Carr Park.

Officer David Hofer was responding to the call of duty. Shanna and little Diederik Vandewege were enjoying their first months together. April Vancleave was trying to raise money for her daughter’s Christmas present.

Their lives were all cut short by homicide. They are among the 141 victims recorded in Tarrant, Denton, Johnson and Parker counties in 2016, the most since 2011, when 153 were recorded. In 2015, there were 121 in the four counties.

“There are really no trends or patterns to homicides,” said Grand Prairie Major Crimes Sgt. Gerald Brown. “They’re all unique in themselves.”

Of the total, 103 were by firearms, 16 by stabbing, 17 by blunt force and five others that varied from burning to drowning to smothering. One cause of death is still pending, according to the Tarrant County medical examiner.

Homicides by firearm since 2012

Number of firearm homicides per county from 2012 through 2016.

The Star-Telegram’s searchable database of area homicides was compiled using information from the medical examiner’s office, police records and original reporting. A homicide is defined as the killing of one person by another. So all homicides, even those that would be considered justified — such as self-defense — are included.

Tarrant County recorded 128 total homicides last year, including 94 by firearms, an increase from 105 total and 60 by firearms in 2015. Most were in Fort Worth, where there were 65. Arlington had 25.

From 2015 to 2016, Tarrant County’s population rose by an estimated 22,870, from 1.905 to 1.928 million. Fort Worth grew by 13,660 people, reaching over 806,000 in 2016. In Arlington, the population grew by 1,370, according to the North Central Texas Council of Governments population estimates.

Of Fort Worth’s 65 homicides, 46 were by firearms, nine were stabbings, eight were by blunt force, one was a drowning and one was a smothering.

Domestic homicides rising

Fort Worth’s domestic-related homicides almost tripled, from seven in 2015 to 19 last year.

“It’s on the rise, I don’t know what the cause of it is but it definitely has risen over the last several years,” said Fort Worth homicide Sgt. Joe Loughman.

Domestic homicides in Fort Worth since 2012

Number of homicides in Fort Worth whose motives were determined to be domestic since 2013.

In one harrowing domestic case in April, Elizabeth Arellano, 28, a mother of four, was found in Lake Worth with a rope attached to a piece of concrete tied around her neck,

More than a week after her body was found, police arrested her estranged husband, Rodolfo “Rudy” Arellano, on a capital murder warrant. He is accused of kidnapping his wife, then throwing her into Lake Worth and causing her to drown.

In another shocking case, Shanna Vandewege, 36, and her 3-month-old baby, Diederik, were found with their necks slashed on Dec. 15. Fort Worth detectives issued a capital murder warrant for Craig Vandewege, the husband and father, about a week after the two were found.

An arrest warrant affidavit said he told a co-worker that a new medication he was taking was making him hear voices telling him to kill people. He remains in the Tarrant County Jail with bail set at $1 million.

In Grand Prairie, Brown said most of the city’s eight cases last year involved some kind of association or relationship between the victim and the attacker.

“The victim is not just the deceased,” Brown said. “They are a loved one left behind.”

For Leiliana Wright, 4, of Grand Prairie, the family member involved was her mother, Jeri Quezada. Quezada and her boyfriend, Charles Phifer, are accused of beating the little girl to death March 12.

In an arrest warrant affidavit, Quezada is quoted as telling investigators that she took her daughter and 18-month-old son to visit Phifer and while there, the couple shot up heroin in the bathroom. She said she and Phifer started hitting Leiliana with a belt and bamboo because she drank her little brother’s juice, according to the affidavit.

A Child Protective Services caseworker and a supervisor on the case were fired a month after the killing. A CPS special investigator who worked on the case resigned.

2016 homicide map

Locations of 2016 homicides in Tarrant, Denton, Johnson and Parker and counties. Based on information from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner, police reports and Star-Telegram archives. Click on markers for more details.

Uptick in Arlington

In Arlington, the 25 homicides posted in 2016 eclipsed the city’s 10-year average of 15. In 2015, there were eight. The last time the city had more than 20 was in 2011, when there were 22.

“We noticed an uptick of violent crime in January 2016 and responded by creating a task force with Operation Safety Net,” said a police spokesman, Lt. Chris Cook.

Operation Safety Net comprises officers from various departments. Its aim is to increase resources and visibility in crime hot spots.

Twenty-two of the 25 homicides last year in Arlington were by firearms, and unlike Fort Worth, most were not domestic.

“Several of our homicides and nonfatal shootings have an underlying nexus of guns and drugs,” Cook said. “We continue to target prolific offenders, gang members, weapons and drug offenders to reverse these trends further.”

Robbery appears to be motive in the case of April Vancleave, 33. She was trying to sell jewelry online to help buy her 6-year-old daughter a Christmas present when her life was cut short.

Vancleave and her husband went to meet the potential online buyers at a Target store on South Cooper Street in Arlington, but no one showed up. Her husband dropped her off at their apartment and returned to work. That’s when two people killed April Vancleave.

“This is a bad case,” Cook told the Star-Telegram in December. “She’s just trying to do the right thing by meeting the potential buyer in a well-occupied place. That’s what she did. Unfortunately, the suspects followed her home.”

Cook said the department will provide more detailed information on last year’s homicides in its annual report, which is expected to be released in March.

2016 homicide database

Homicides in 2016 in Tarrant, Denton, Johnson and Parker counties, which are served by the Tarrant County medical examiner. Based on information from the medical examiner's office, police reports and Star-Telegram archives Users can search by date, city, victim's name or cause of death.

Deadly officer-involved shootings

In Tarrant County, there were six deadly officer-involved shootings, and one officer was killed in action.

The first fatal shooting occurred Jan. 30 in Saginaw, where Michael Brown, 25, was shot to death by an officer after he attacked residents as well as two officers.

On March 1, the community mourned the death of Hofer, a 29 Euless police officer, who was ambushed by Jorge Brian Gonzalez, who stole firearms from a home, fired random shots and hid from officers at J.A. Carr Park in Euless.

Hofer was one of the first at the scene when Gonzalez, hiding in a drainage ditch, opened fire. Other officers returned fire, and Hofer and Gonzalez were later pronounced dead at hospitals.

Thousands of area residents and law enforcers from across the country attended Hofer’s funeral, where he was remembered for his acts of service, humor, smile and generous heart.

His shooting was among many attacks on police in 2016, including the July 7 ambush that killed five Dallas officers.

On March 15, officer Matt Pearce was shot five times and critically injured while pursuing two suspects in a wooded area of Fort Worth. Officers shot and killed Ed R. McIver, 42, after he and his son, Ed R. McIver Jr., 20, led police on a chase from Parker County.

Nine months after the shooting, Pearce returned to working light duty in the tactical medic unit in October.

He recently received the Medal of Honor for heroism, the Fort Worth Police Department’s top award.

“I wouldn’t have this award without them,” he said of his fellow officers, “because without them, I wouldn’t have ever made it out of that field.”

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Azia Branson: 817-390-7547, @aziabranson