Shootings on interstate highways have increased during the pandemic, ABC News analysis shows

ABC News

(NEW YORK) – As the nation continues to grapple with mass shootings in New York and California last weekend, new analysis from ABC News and ABC-owned stations shows a startling increase in gun violence along interstate highways across the country in recent years.

The analysis, which looked at nearly 3,000 shootings that occurred on or near U.S. highways from January 2018 to March 2022, found that shootings on interstate highways across the country have increased in tandem with the overall increase in gun violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, with New Orleans, Chicago and Memphis seeing some of the biggest spikes.

Shootings on interstate highways rose from 540 incidents in 2019 to 846 incidents in 2021 — up 57% — according to the data, which was collected by Gun Violence Archive, an independent research group.

In the first three months of this year alone, at least 149 shooting incidents occurred along or near interstate highways, the data shows.

In total, the incidents have left 680 people dead and more than 1,600 injured over the past four years and three months, the data shows.

ABC News Chief Justice correspondent Pierre Thomas’ full report, “Highway Gunplay: An ABC News Investigation,” will air on ABC News Live Prime with Linsey Davis, Wednesday at 7 and 9 p.m.

Data collected by Gun Violence Archive helps shed light on some of the country’s most dangerous stretches of highway on the more than 47,000 miles of highways across the country.

According to the data, I-10 in the New Orleans area was the most violent stretch of freeway in terms of firearm incidents between 2019 and 2021. It is followed by I-94 in Chicago area, I-240 in Memphis area. , I-35 in the Austin area and I-70 in the St. Louis area.

Courtney Bradford, a young man about to be married, was shot and killed late last year as a passenger in a car on I-240 in Memphis. He and his fiancée had just bought a new house to share with their 5-year-old daughter.

“I called him by mistake. It’s very difficult,” Bradford’s fiancée, Latoya Henley, told ABC News’ Thomas of Bradford’s death seven months ago.

The shooting that claimed Bradford’s life was one of 121 interstate shootings that Memphis police responded to in 2021, according to data provided by the police department.

“What’s even more disturbing is the fact that they’re so reckless,” Bradford’s mother, Tonja Rounds, told ABC News. “You could aim for a specific individual – but you’re shooting on the highway and people are passing by, so you can shoot anyone.”

“It’s very crazy,” Henley said. “I get anxious when I’m on the highway.”

Seven months after the shooting, Henley and Rounds say police appear no closer to determining who took Bradford’s life. The shooting took place at night and surveillance cameras could not provide details of the car from which the shots originated.

“We continue to trust and believe that someone is going to come forward,” Rounds said.

Memphis, New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit are among the cities hardest hit by surging freeway shootings in recent years, with the number of shootings increasing even more as the COVID-19 pandemic 19 was spreading in the United States.

Eight of the 10 stretches of freeways with the highest number of firearm incidents between 2019 and 2021 are in those four cities, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. Shootings on or near highways in these cities alone have killed at least 63 people and injured at least 284 others during this time, accounting for nearly 12% of all fatalities and 23% of all reported injuries as a result of armed violence between states during those years.

I-10, which crosses the southern United States from Florida to California, has had the highest number of shootings on interstate highways during the pandemic period, including at least 79 incidents in Louisiana – many of which are are produced around New Orleans.

“You have what police chiefs are calling the impact of the pandemic on crime,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told ABC News. “He cannot be underestimated.”

“Traffic stops have gone down, so now a little altercation — someone cuts someone in the road — can escalate quickly,” Wexler said. “And this altercation becomes a shooting, becomes a homicide.”

During the pandemic years, between 2020 and 2021, data from the Gun Violence Archive showed at least 121 interstate shootings in the Chicago area, an average of one incident every six days. The group found 73 incidents in the New Orleans area, 58 incidents in the Detroit area, 57 incidents in the Memphis area and 38 incidents in the St. Louis area.

The surge in highway shootings during the pandemic reflects an increase in overall gun violence.

According to data released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firearm homicides rose 35% across the country during the pandemic, to the highest level in 25 years.

Gun murders have increased the most among youth and young adults, with the number of victims between the ages of 10 and 24 increasing by 40%. People of color have seen the biggest increase as the number of black male victims aged 10 to 24 – already 21 times higher than the number of white male victims of the same age – has risen again in 2020.

An analysis of data provided by the Houston Police Department by ABC13 showed that homicides along highways and city streets have doubled during the pandemic, leading to an increase in the total number of homicides in the city over the past few years. two years of pandemic. Among those killed in road rage incidents in Houston was 17-year-old David Castro, who was fatally shot last summer on I-10 as he left an Astros baseball game , and Tyler Mitchell, who died earlier this month after being shot along the same highway. just before his 22nd birthday.

In California, the Gun Violence Archive identified more than 200 shootings on interstate highways between January 2018 and March 2022, many of which occurred on I-5, I-80 and I-580. And additional shootings have occurred on Southern California freeways that are not part of the interstate system; Last year, the California Highway Patrol reported at least 80 incidents of cars being shot while traveling on SoCal freeways in just one month between late April and late May, with the majority of them occurring along from Highway 91 which runs east from Highway 15 west to Highway 605.

Law enforcement officials say the nature of highway shootings generally makes them harder to track and solve than other types of shootings.

“The evidence and the crime scene are moving, sometimes at 70, 80, 90 miles an hour,” Illinois State Police Superintendent Brendan Kelly said.

As a result, Kelly said, Illinois State Police are adding patrols and increasing searches to identify people with illegal weapons in their cars. They also added new cameras along the highways to try to better track suspects.

“We will use license plate readers, we will use our air operations, we will use our patrol officers who are there, we will use dogs, we will use all the tools at our disposal to be able to prosecute those responsible for this violence ” , said Kelly.

In the Detroit area, where the Detroit Police Department says it has seen an average of five freeway shootings per month for the past three years, the city has partnered with more than three dozen other law enforcement agencies. law enforcement to launch “Operation Brison”. a multi-city effort to quell freeway shootings after two-year-old Brison Christian was killed last year when someone opened fire on his family’s vehicle on I-17 in this which the police called mistaken identity.

Two suspected gang members have been charged with murder in the case.

But in Memphis, Latoya Henley is still waiting for the resolution of her fiancé’s murder.

“We have no idea what happened,” Henley told ABC News. “We don’t know who is involved.”

“I don’t want anyone to feel what I feel,” she said. “I pray a lot, because the only thing I don’t want to be is anger. Because that’s what I was in the beginning — I was angry. I was confused. And I was in disbelief. And you know, some days I’m still in disbelief.

Jack Date, Luke Barr and Alexandra Myers of ABC News contributed to this report, as well as Ross Weidner of WLS in Chicago, Courtney Carpenter of KTRK in Houston and Lindsey Feingold of KGO in San Francisco.

Watch “Highway Gunplay: An ABC News Investigation” on ABC News Live Prime with Linsey Davis, Wednesdays at 7 and 9 p.m.

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