ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — There were 12 gun-related homicides in the City of Roanoke in 2020. WFXR News discovered this is an increase from previous years.
In 2019, there were 11 homicides that were the result of gun violence. There were eight incidents in 2018.
However, it wasn’t just an increase in gun-related homicides. The City of Roanoke also saw an increase in the number of aggravated assaults in which someone was hit by a bullet. For 2020, 47 incidents were reported, compared to 26 in 2019. In 2018, 40 reports were made of someone being injured by gunfire.
Chief of Police Sam Roman cites the COVID-19 pandemic as a possible contributing factor to the rise in gun violence locally, as well as across the country.
“We’re not able to go out and go to the gym, and release frustrations and things like that,” Roman explained. “There is just a host of things that can be pointed to as attributable to the reason why gun violence has increased.”
WFXR News also found there were numerous aggravated assaults by firearm in 2020; this means a firearm was used as a weapon, but someone wasn’t necessarily shot. From Jan. 1 to Dec. 1 of 2020, there were 103 aggravated assaults by firearm. This is up from 60 incidents in 2019 and 62 incidents in 2018.
Rita Joyce has been impacted by gun violence firsthand. Her 24-year-old son, Joey, was killed in a shooting at a Roanoke gas station in 2004. She says she has yet to stop at the gas station since.
“People ask me, like you asked me, how many children do you have? What do I say? Do I say have three? Or do I say I have two? So these are the kinds of things someone who loses a child thinks about,” Joyce explained.
She says Joey was affectionate and funny. He had four children of his own when he was killed. His youngest child was too young at the time to have memories of him now.
“He didn’t have the chance to grow up to be the man I know he would have been, the father I know he would have been,” said Joyce.
“Understand when you look at my eyes and look at me that I’m just one of millions that have been broken because somebody decided to use a gun. You have a choice. A lot of things you don’t have a choice with, but this you do. You have a choice not to pick up a gun and take someone’s life.”Rita Joyce
In the years since her son’s death, Joyce has been active in helping others who have experienced a similar loss. She is also involved in the Study Committee to Reduce Gun Violence — a group in Roanoke working to address the issue of gun-related violence in the community.
Records show that a majority of gunshot-related crimes with known offenders from 2020 were committed by teens and young adults.