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East Texas city seeks answers after spate of killings

By DAVID WARREN

Associated Press

LONGVIEW, Tx._Detectives in the East Texas town of Longview found the body of a 21-year-old man riddled with gunshots along a residential street pockmarked by forlorn homes.

A few blocks away, they had earlier investigated the killing of a 30-year-old man. Nearby, another shooting left a man dead.

In the first two months of 2015, the city of 81,000 has had six homicides - more than it had all of last year. The recent spasm of violence has startled residents of the small oil-and-gas town and focused more attention on a police department already under scrutiny for the death of a 17-year-old with a history of mental illness.

The girl, Kristiana Coignard, was fatally shot after charging officers in the lobby of the police station while carrying a knife, police said. Her death, captured in a widely circulated video, is still under investigation and not included in the police department's official homicide count.

The local newspaper, the Longview News-Journal, noted that the rate of killings this year has already exceeded the national yearly average of 5.3 for homicides per 100,000 people. Last year, the city had five homicides.

This week, a local church helped organize a march to bring attention to the slayings.

"We're letting the neighborhood know this is an alert and we're going to take a stand and not be silent anymore," said LaDarian McGee, youth director for Bethel Temple of Longview.

McGee said the march drew upward of 100 people. Some wore T-shirts displaying the broad smile of Da'Coreyan Blankenship, the 21-year-old who was shot several times on March 3, his body left behind in the street.

"When you saw D, he was the kind of person who would walk into a room and just light it up," said McGee, who mentored Blankenship.

Most of the killings have occurred in a low-income area south of downtown, and all but one of the victims was a minority. The neighborhood is marred by old, dilapidated homes that are now shelters for drug dealers and their customers.

"Longview is no different from a lot of communities," Mayor Jay Dean said. "A lot of these problems stem from the drug trade."

City leaders are working to increase the number of police officers, from about 150 now to 172.

At a recent news conference, officials announced a multi-layered effort to curtail violent crime. Police are boosting patrols in the area and officers are charged with getting out of their patrol cars and shaking the hands of residents not used to seeing officers as allies.

Officials also want to use city and state laws to wipe away abandoned, blighted buildings while cracking down on landlords whose properties have become a haven for crime. Dean noted that landlords now have to be cited numerous times for violations before police become involved.

He hopes the effort will attract businesses and provide residents more opportunities to earn an honest living.

"We have all the incentive in the world to try to reduce crime," Dean said.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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