By Gabriela Vidal
SOUTH CITY, Missouri (KMOV) — Candles lit up a small stretch of sidewalk on Broadway Street in South City on Christmas Eve.
“He died right here a year ago today,” Destiny Barnett said. “He took his last breath right here a year ago today. So, it messes me up a little bit.”
It is a sobering reminder that Christmas will never feel the same for those who knew Chris Rea.
“It’s been rough. it’s been really rough,” Mackenzie Phillips said. “That was his favorite holiday. He was killed on his favorite holiday.”
21-year-old Rea was shot and killed on the morning of Christmas Eve 2020. Police found the father of three dead inside his car off of South Broadway near Davis Street.
He shared two young daughters with Phillips and a 1-year-old daughter with Barnett.
“My oldest daughter, she was three when he passed away, so she asked about him, asked why she can’t see him or call him,” Phillips said. “That’s rough, trying to explain that to her and just not having him there plays a big part.”
His death added on to a record high rate of homicides for the city of St. Louis in 2020 with 87.2 homicides per 100,000 residents. The total number of homicides for 2020 was 263.
Homicide numbers have dropped significantly since, with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department reporting 188 homicides cases in 2021, 75 fewer than the year before. In 2019 there were 194 homicides recorded.
“One homicide is one too many…but I think that we’re seeing the benefit of St. Louis really doing what is necessary to take a much deeper dive,” James Clark, vice president of public safety and community response with the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, said.
Clark said the city’s focus on funding neighborhood programs like the Urban League’s Gun Violence De-Escalation Network, the Serving our Streets Program, and Cure Violence have helped bring homicide numbers down by targeting communities where violence grows.
“Through the gun violence de-escalation model, we’re able to get information from individuals who know about a conflict and then work to de-escalate the conflict. Last year, we have successfully de-escalated so far nine conflicts that have a trajectory towards gun violence,” Clark said.
Now, he believes the city needs to scale up its funding on these initiatives, which he said will only continue to help break the cycle of young people growing up in an environment of violence or developing violent behavior.
“We’ve got to engage in the neighborhood, on the front porch and in the living room,” Clark said.
For Rea’s loved ones, a safer St. Louis is also about making sure justice is served in the homicide cases that still remain unsolved, including Rea’s death.
“We want justice for him. it’s not fair that they get to go home to their family, and we’re stuck here…wondering why, who, for what reason,” Barnett said. “It’s 365 days later and that person is still out here and it’s not okay.”
So far, 43 percent of homicide cases in 2021 remain unsolved.
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