St. Louis police respond to rash of murders

By Bruce Olson

ST. LOUIS (BestGrowthStock) – Police deployed extra officers into troubled neighborhoods of St. Louis on Wednesday to try to stem a tide of violence in one of the nation’s most dangerous cities.

Two people were shot dead on Tuesday outside the funeral for another slaying victim, adding to a rash of killings in the city in recent weeks.

Another mass slaying occurred in the nearby town of Bonne Terre, Missouri, where a 25-year-old man with previous arrests for rape and drug possession shot at least three people to death and then himself as police closed in.

Last month there were 25 homicides in St. Louis, up from 15 a year ago. Overall, the murder pace in the city is slightly down from a year ago, with 128 homicides so far in 2010 compared to 135 in the comparable period in 2009.

St. Louis ranked first among U.S. cities in the number of violent crimes with 2,070 per 100,000 residents in a study released last week, which used FBI crime data. The national average is 429 per 100,000, according to social science publisher CQ Press.

The killing of two people outside a funeral home on Tuesday prompted St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom to send the department’s specialized 21-member hostage response unit to patrol in neighborhoods where crime has been the worst.

In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Isom said the funeral home shooting was a result of gang tensions, but on Wednesday authorities said that was not definite.

“While there appears to be an on-going dispute there is no definitive link to any gang-related violence,” police spokeswoman Katie O’Sullivan said in an interview.

The victims and a suspect knew each other and were attending the funeral when an argument broke out and carried on outside of the funeral home, police said.

“The investigation revealed the three are all known to one another and that they began shooting at one another,” a statement by police said.

They were attending the funeral of David Davis, the victim of an unsolved slaying November 19.

To close out a violent month, police reported another homicide early Tuesday of 21-year-old man near the Mississippi River. Witnesses reported sounds of a car break-in, then shots.

In nearby Bonne Terre, an old lead-mining center that is also home to the state prison system’s execution chamber, Police Chief Doug Calvert arrived first on the scene of a murder spree.

Calvert grabbed a young boy caught in the chaos, saying in an interview, “I had to get him out of the hot zone.” He then saw the gunman running out a back door of an apartment complex.

Calvert said he and fellow officers surrounded 25-year-old Nathan Fortner, who killed himself with a shot to the head.

“None of the officers fired a shot,” Calvert said.

Fortner’s girlfriend was found dead in a vehicle nearby with the couple’s 18-month-old son unharmed beside her. The girlfriend’s mother and her boyfriend were found dead inside their apartment. Authorities said still another slaying may be tied to Fortner, but have yet to discover his motive.

Fortner was facing a rape charge and was free after posting $150,000 bail, according to St. Francis County prosecutor Wendy Wexler-Horn. Previously, Fortner posted $25,000 following an arrest for drug possession, which she said was for methamphetamine.

Missouri has led the nation for the past decade in the number of seizures of illegal meth production labs, according to a group of narcotics officers. So far this year, police in the state have seized 1,400 meth labs, up 8 percent from the same period in 2009.

(Editing by Andrew Stern and Greg McCune)

St. Louis police respond to rash of murders