This mother's story reflects 162 families of Jacksonville homicide victims in 2022

Ka-Nekia Hughes looks through a stack of photos of her son Sylvester Jenkins in her Macclenny home around Thanksgiving. He was among Jacksonville's 162 homicide victims in 2022.
Ka-Nekia Hughes looks through a stack of photos of her son Sylvester Jenkins in her Macclenny home around Thanksgiving. He was among Jacksonville's 162 homicide victims in 2022.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect a November death that JSO no longer rules a homicide. Other adjustments may be made throughout the year, particularly with a couple of life-threatening victims who could succumb to their injuries and be added to the numbers.

Ka-Nekia Hughes tried to contact her son Sylvester Jenkins on his 29th birthday on Aug. 4. But she, nor anyone else in her family, could reach him. Hughes tried to make excuses, writing off his absence on partying for his birthday.

But when Hughes' daughter told her she also hadn’t been able to reach Jenkins since Aug. 1, worry set in. Her partner went to Jenkins’ house on Aug. 5 to check on him, but the door was locked and his truck wasn’t in the driveway.

Hughes, who lives in Baker County, called the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office the next day and reported him missing.

Officers went to his home on West 22nd Street that same day and called her back that afternoon.

“They told me that they found him inside his home, deceased. They wouldn’t tell me what happened to him,” Hughes said. “They just told me that it was a homicide and I would probably be able to have an open casket.”

Jenkins had been shot twice in the head.

By the numbers:162 Jacksonville homicides in 2022: Who died, where and how

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Hughes estimates her son was killed on Aug. 2, because he stopped answering his phone the day before and his missing truck had been found on fire on Aug. 3 about 30 miles from where he lived.

It’s an unsolved mystery that haunts Hughes and her family and one of Jacksonville's 162 homicides in 2022, according to the Times-Union's unofficial data. The previous year saw a substantial decline of about 27% in homicides with 129 following a horrific 177 in 2020. But a year later reverted back to the complete opposite in percentage differential, increasing 26% to equal 2019's second-worst total this century.

The numbers could still change considering four individuals were in life-threatening condition following shootings in December, two of them by police.

Ka-Nekia Hughes displays a large framed photograph of her son Sylvester Jenkins who was among Jacksonville's homicide victims in 2022.
Ka-Nekia Hughes displays a large framed photograph of her son Sylvester Jenkins who was among Jacksonville's homicide victims in 2022.

Hughes says her son was well-mannered and had been working at Amazon but was waiting to surprise her with the news that he had earned a certificate that would allow him to become a security guard.

"I try to stay positive because my mister and my daughters are saying I'm always worrying, I'm pessimistic and all these negative things," Hughes said. "But look what happens in the world."

Unsolved cases in Jacksonville area

Elijah McDonald, another of the city's homicide victims, was just 17 when he was shot in the parking lot of a Woodstock apartment complex on Sept. 27. McDonald's father also was a victim of gun violence just two years before.

His mother, Alicia McDonald, thinks there needs to be better security like gates and cameras at apartment complexes. But she also believes the community needs to step up and start talking with law enforcement to help solve these unsolved killings like her son's.

She's worried for the future of Jacksonville.

"It's going to start spilling over eventually," McDonald said.

'We will not tire': Jacksonville Sheriff Waters, Mayor Curry pledge resources to find shooter in boy's death

Hundreds more cases are unsolved over the years.

Crystal Anlage's son Jacquez Anlage Cain, 20, is one of them. Anlage has done her best to keep her son's name in the media the last two years.

On the morning of Oct. 17, 2020, someone showed up at the apartment where he was staying. Jacquez opened the door, and someone shot him.

"I actually found out by a complete stranger messaging me on Instagram at like 9:30 in the morning," Anlage said.

Like McDonald, Anlage said communicating with Sheriff's Office detectives about her son's case has been difficult.

"We actually met with them last month for the first time since briefly after my son died," Anlage said. "They just had to make sure that I knew that they were working on the case because I filed a complaint against my detective for the way he did communicate when he did communicate. It's very cold. It's almost like you're revictimizing the family."

Can the new sheriff stem the violence?

There's a new sheriff in town, but T.K. Waters is from the old regime that has seen 100-plus homicides for a decade and a ghastly 177 two years ago. So residents are left to wonder how things can change.

For his part, Waters has been steadfast that it's not as bad as it looks and to stay the course.

"We are going in the right direction even though it may not feel like it," Waters said during an election forum in August. "... We will keep driving and pressing to make sure we touch the right people and do our very best to get this problem under control. We will not stop working on it."

"I am a big believer in engaging my community, and some of the things I created in the Sheriff's Office were doing just that to go out and work on the issue of violent crime," he reiterated again the next month in another forum. "... We have a lot of work to do, there's no denying that. We see ourselves going in the right direction, contrary to what you hear."

His general election opponent, Lakesha Burton, made her campaign about change.

"We have a violent crime problem with our city and my opponent has been over violent crime for the past seven years," Burton said during the September debate. "He has taken police officers off the street and spent millions of dollars on technology, millions of dollars on overtime, to the tune of over a half billion dollars. His strategies have failed."

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Waters defeated Burton by securing 55% of the votes. He has since been highly visible to the public at significant police briefings and updates.

He addressed the community along with Mayor Lenny Curry and other activists following the Dec. 3 atrocity that saw 13-year-old Prince Holland stripped of his life while coming home from a football tryout with a coach and three other youths. They were in a vehicle stopped at New Kings Road and West Moncrief Road when gunfire erupted from another vehicle. Prince was killed, and an 11-year-old and the coach wounded. The two other children were uninjured but will live with this memory.

“Today I stand before you with our community and faith leaders to share that this grief has not broken our community,” Waters said during a news conference outside the Sheriff's Office. “To the contrary, this grief has emboldened us and hardened our resolve. Jacksonville will not, I repeat will not, tolerate violence for one more day.”

Waters vowed the Sheriff’s Office would dedicate an extra 420 man-hours to focus on the crime, as well as two additional attorneys from the State Attorney’s Office.

“We will not tire,” Waters said as a message to those responsible. “We won't waver. All our agency's resources are being mobilized to stop you from hurting anyone else in our community. You will be held accountable to the community that we serve.”

Over a month later, no arrests have been announced.

Here's a breakdown by the numbers

⋅Century mark: The city eclipsed 100 homicides for the 11th straight year. It also marked the seventh straight year with at least 120. In the last decade, Jacksonville has lost 1,362 lives as a result of homicides. That's an average of about 136 a year and a person killed every two to three days. The high since The Florida Times-Union began keeping track in 2003 was 2020's 177 by far, and the low — also by far — was 86 in 2011.

⋅Deadliest and safest ZIP codes: The 32209 ZIP code in the Moncrief/Grand Park area maintained its spot with the most homicides, 19, one shy of its total in 2021. It finished ahead the 17 in 32210, 15 in 32206 and 12 in both 32208 and 32218. Several had zero: 32073, 32212, 32220, 32223, 32226, 32227, 32228, 32234 and 32250.

Deadliest part of town: 32209 ZIP code proves to be Jacksonville's killing fields year after year

The totals do not include the out-of-jurisdiction Beaches communities, which had three combined.

⋅Age of victims: Much like 2021 when 51 of the people killed were 21 to 30 years old, that was the most vulnerable age range in 2022 with 50 deaths. Next was 31 to 40 years old with 41 casualties. Young victims 11 to 20 years old made up the third-worst rate with 26 victims, well over the prior year's 16.

⋅Victims, race and gender: African Americans continued to suffer the most deaths with 119, up from 2021’s 93. White victims totaled 37 compared to 27 the previous year. Hispanics, at six homicides, declined from nine in 2020. Twenty-seven of the victims were female, well ahead of the 16 killed in 2021. The males went from 113 to 134. One victim’s gender was unaccounted for due to being a fetus.

⋅Arrests, race and gender: Police made murder arrests in at least 49 cases. Of the 53 suspects, there were 40 Black males, eight white males, three Black females, one white female and one Hispanic male.

⋅Fatal police shootings: Officers killed eight suspects, seven Black men and one white. That's substantially higher than the three killed in 2021, two Black and one white. Two of the police shootings in 2022 were life-threatening.

⋅Justifiable: Several cases have yet to be ruled on, but 25 have been deemed justifiable such as self-defense and police shootings. In the previous year 12 homicides also were ruled justifiable, and there was one excusable and one accidental.

⋅Cause of death: Shootings were responsible for 129 homicides (not counting police shootings), followed by 10 stabbings, seven beatings, one person run over by a car and seven with no cause provided. That compares to 109 shooting homicides in 2021, nine stabbings, five beatings, one strangling, one falling off a moving vehicle and four with no cause provided.

There were two murder-suicides in 2022, compared to none in 2021. Cases that involved some form of domestic relations rose to 21 from nine the previous year.

⋅Worst and best months: July topped the calendar year with 16 homicides followed by 15 each in April and September. The year before saw 17 people killed in the worst month February and another 14 in July.

February was the safest month at nine deaths, while the previous two years had been December with only seven and eight killings.

About this data

As a footnote, the Times-Union’s numbers may vary somewhat from the Sheriff’s Office due to some procedural differences. Historically the Sheriff’s Office does not include out-of-jurisdiction homicides but this year does for one Atlantic Beach case that it was asked to handle the investigation. The Times-Union is not listing it for consistency.

Similarly the Sheriff’s Office has listed deaths of fetuses in past homicides of the mothers but doesn’t for one in 2022. Since the suspect is charged with two counts of murder, the Times-Union is counting the fetus as a homicide.

The other terminology to note is the difference between a homicide and a murder: They are not interchangeable. Murders do not include justifiable actions such as self-defense or just cause; homicides do. So homicide numbers will always be higher than the murder totals that law enforcement agencies include in their Uniform Crime Reporting to the FBI.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Jacksonville ends 2022 with 162 homicides for one of its worst years