Winston-Salem had 31 homicides last year, making 2019 the city’s deadliest in the last 25 years.
The city’s 2019 homicide total exceeded 2018’s total of 26, the fifth year in a row the city’s homicide total has increased over the previous year. Last year’s total was the city’s fifth highest since 1912, according to police data, and is 10 behind the city’s worst year on record, 1994, when 41 people were killed.
There are seven years on record with higher homicide totals: 1993 had 36 homicides, and there were 33 homicides in 1971, 1972,1973 and 1992. There were 32 homicides in 1969.
Among the 31 people killed in Winston-Salem in 2019, five were children under the age of 18. One of the children was a 7-month-old baby who police have not yet publicly identified.
By comparison, three children were killed in 2018.
There were two women killed in 2019, compared to four in 2018.
None of the city’s homicides were committed in the northwest portion of the city; the area west of University Parkway and north of Business 40.
All but eight of the 31 homicides occurred south of Business 40.
An increase in gun-related homicides accompanied the city’s increased homicide total, with 25 of the city’s 31 homicides gun-related in 2019. In 2018, there were 20 gun-related homicides, and in 2017, there were 19.
It is gun violence that Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson considers to be the biggest challenge facing the city’s law enforcement.
Thompson addressed the issue Dec. 20 in the parking lot of the city’s Johnson Municipal Services Center where, hours earlier, a man had shot and killed his co-worker inside the building.
“We are all experiencing unacceptable levels of gun violence,” Thompson said then as part of her prepared remarks.
City sanitation worker Steven Haizlip, 61, shot and killed his co-worker, Terry Lee Cobb Jr., 48, that morning, police said. Moments later, police officers shot and killed Haizlip when he confronted them. An officer and another city worker were wounded in the shootings.
While it’s still unclear if Haizlip was legally in possession of the handguns he used to kill Cobb, police have made getting illegal guns off the streets a priority.
During a Dec. 19 interview, Winston-Salem police Capt. Steven Tollie said police were on track to seize 1,000 guns off city streets in 2019, compared to around 700 in 2018. An officer under Tollie, Lt. Amy Gauldin, heads up the department’s Violent Firearms Investigation Team. He said her unit is being “very aggressive” in its efforts to get guns off the streets.
Tollie is head of the police department’s Criminal Investigations Division, and he said he is not entirely sure about where most people committing shootings in the city are getting their guns, calling it a “million dollar question.”
He theorized many are coming from auto break-ins and straw purchases — where someone with a clean record buys the gun and passes it along.
A few gun stores in the Triad have been robbed in recent years also, Tollie said, possibly contributing to the perceived influx of illegal guns on city streets.
“The frequency we’re encountering armed suspects is the highest I’ve ever experienced it,” Tollie said.
Many of the guns used in Winston-Salem’s shootings are being used repeatedly, and are being passed around within loosely organized gangs or small groups, Tollie said. Of the city’s 31 homicides, 15 are open cases or without arrests. Of the unsolved cases, two are almost certainly gang-related, Tollie said.
While police know some guns are being used in more than one crime, putting the gun in the same person’s hand can be difficult, Tollie said.
“Ballistically we can prove the gun is hitting numerous scenes, but it’s hard to prove (the same person used it),” Tollie said.
In some cases, investigators know who killed who, but a lack of forthcoming witnesses makes it nearly impossible to prosecute, he said.
While 2019 marked one of the deadliest years in the city’s history, the 31 total homicides would have been higher if it weren’t for Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s trauma department, Tollie said. He made a point to thank the doctors at the hospital’s emergency department for their work.
Another high-profile incident happened on Aug. 6 when Julius Randolph Sampson Jr., 32, was shot and killed outside BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse at Hanes Mall. Robert Anthony Granato, 22, of Cloverhurst Court was charged with murder and carrying a concealed weapon in connection with Sampson’s death. Granato is being held at the Forsyth County Jail with no bond allowed.
LaKeyia Ingram-Sampson, Julius’ widow, said that her husband’s death was a “senseless, hateful act.”
“Julius was full of life and loved to celebrate and prepare meals,” Ingram-Sampson said. “Thanksgiving was tough not having him around and also missing his deep fried turkey being on our dinner table. The holidays are for love, joy, giving back and family which are all extremely difficult without the pillar of your home and the most critical piece to a family missing.”
Ingram-Sampson said that it was also difficult to remember that New Year’s Eve was the anniversary of her engagement to Julius Sampson.
“Memories and photos have replaced the physical presence of a man who deserves to be around the tree with his wife, children, family and friends during this holiday season,” Ingram-Sampson said.
“So in addition to the holidays and welcoming a new decade, there always seems to be a special date that comes up that makes him not being here a more painful experience. Not just during the holiday, but for every day since Aug. 6, we have to find the strength and courage to heal and move forward in the days ahead.”
A nonprofit organization, the Julius Randolph Sampson, Jr. C.H.A.N.G.E. Project (Cultivating Healing, Advocacy for Non-Violence, Growth & Education) has been established in Winston-Salem, Ingram-Sampson said.
“Our communities are suffering and hurting from traumatic and violent events, lack of opportunities for children, youth and adults in addition to the need to break generational cycles that haunt our families,” Ingram-Sampson said. “This project will support the efforts that Julius had started in his own personal life.”
The 1st Annual Julius “Juice” Sampson Sneakerball will be held 7 p.m. Jan. 19 at Platinum Nightlife at 875 Northwest Blvd. The event is designed to give the community an opportunity to dress in formal attire with sneakers, celebrate life and unity, Ingram-Sampson said.
Sampson worked as a barber at the Supreme Legacy Barbershop in Hanes Mall. Reminders of Sampson — stickers of his likeness or programs from his funeral — remain in the Barbershop after his death, a memorial to his time there.
Sampson’s last customer, Angelo Terry, still gets his hair cut there.
Jermaine Foster, the owner of Supreme Legacy, spoke at Sampson’s funeral on Aug. 13 at Union Baptist Church. Foster said that Sampson impressed him from the first time they met.
“He didn’t change,” Foster said. “He became so much better … He was aiming for what he was trying to be.”