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Houston sees 50% rise in homicides; police point to interrupted drug trade

“The same buses, trains, planes that transport people, transport drugs. There’s less movement right now. You see drug dealers fighting over territory and the supply”

Associated Press

HOUSTON — A man was charged Thursday in the fatal shooting of three men in Houston, as police reported a nearly 50% uptick in homicides in the city this year.

Investigators believe a reduced illegal drug supply due to the coronavirus pandemic is the cause of the recent spike in killings, said Houston police spokeswoman Jodi Silva.

The shootings happened within an hour Wednesday night but in three different locations in the city. Police said the first was believed to have been drug-related, while motives for the other two were under investigation.

The suspect, 35-year-old Joshua Kelsey, was taken into custody about 4 a.m. Thursday following a short pursuit in a car he was accused of stealing from the scene of the first slaying, police said.

Kelsey was questioned by detectives then charged with murder and capital murder. Court records did not list an attorney for Kelsey.

The shootings began at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday. Investigators believe Kelsey was involved in a confrontation over drugs and shot two men at a home in south Houston, said Executive Assistant Police Chief Troy Finner. One of the men was killed and another was injured.

After stealing a car belonging to one of the men, Kelsey drove to another home about 5 miles away, forced his way inside, and fatally shot a 60-year-old man around 8:36 p.m., Finner said.

Kelsey then drove to another house, arriving around 9 p.m., and fatally shot a third man, police said.

Investigators believe Kelsey knew the first two men but they are still trying to determine his connection to the two other victims, Silva said.

There have been 121 homicides in Houston so far this year, a 49% increase on the 81 during the same period in 2019, Silva said.

Law enforcement officials believe a cause of the jump in homicide numbers is the drop in the illegal drug supply due to the pandemic, she said.

“The same buses, trains, planes that transport people, transport drugs. There’s less movement, so there’s less movement of the supply of drugs,” Finner said. “You see drug dealers fighting over territory and the drugs, the supply.”

Law enforcement officials say the lockdowns related to stopping the spread of the virus have disrupted the drug trade worldwide.

The reduced drug supply has apparently prompted some drug transactions to turn deadly as those involved try to rob one another, Finner said.

These “drug disputes are really pushing the homicides in our city,” Finner said.

Other crimes have also increased in Houston during the pandemic, including aggravated assault, domestic violence and burglaries, even as some crimes have dropped off in other parts of the world under lockdown.