A story for every victim

Homicide victims skewing older in L.A. County

Isaac Gaston Jr. was trying to calm a party in Compton in March when a fight broke out. Guns and knives were drawn and Gaston was shot in the chest and stabbed in the head.

At 31, Gaston was a little bit older than a typical Los Angeles County homicide victim a decade ago. In 2014, his age makes him a few years younger. Those killed in the county — still disproportionately black and nearly half Latino — are skewing older.

“You're not seeing youngsters like you have in the past,” said Det. Todd Anderson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. “You used to see a lot more kids who were 16, 17, 18, 19. While it does still happen, it seems like they are getting a little bit older.”

In 2000, the average homicide victim was 30 years old and in 2014, the average victim was 34 years old, according to a Los Angeles Times data analysis. The shift comes as the total number of homicides falls.

The Homicide Report recorded 551 Los Angeles County homicides in 2014, the lowest in the database, which dates to 2000.

Ages of homicide victims, 2000 and 2014

From 2000 to 2014, the average age of a homicide victim has climbed from 30 to 34 years, according to an L.A. Times data analysis.

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Source: L.A. Times Homicide Report Armand Emamdjomeh / @latdatadesk

George Tita, a criminologist at UC Irvine who studies homicide, said the increase in age is consistent with the changing nature of gang violence and the sharp decrease in killings throughout the county.

He cited a “monumental change in the activities of gangs and what they do and don't do anymore.”

Gang members used to be more blatant, hanging out on street corners, flashing their neighborhood colors.

Now, gang members are aging, and some are getting out of prison. Some ex-convicts who return to the streets may find it hard to break from their past.

“Maybe there's some bad blood because you were in, and now you're reaping what you sow,” said Robert Rubin, a community activist in South Los Angeles.

Others say that the trauma of losing brothers, cousins and fathers to street violence may make gang life less appealing to younger people.

“It's the little brother looking at what happened to the big brother and saying, ‘I don't want to go that way,'” said Elliott Currie, another UC Irvine criminologist. “It's something I think we criminologists don't talk about enough.”

Currie said that the “little brother effect” is one of three factors he believes have contributed to fewer young people being killed. He also credits early childhood education in at-risk communities and parenting classes.

“It's very hard to know for sure,” he said. “It seems to me there's got to be a connection.”

Rubin, who has lost friends and family members to street violence, said he worries that although the victims may be getting older, the killers may remain young. He added: “No matter what the age, life is still being lost.”

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

Twitter: @nicolesantacruz

armand.emamdjomeh@latimes.com

Twitter: @emamd

Follow @latimeshomicide to track killings in L.A. County. And follow @latgreatreads for more distinctive writing from The Times.

Explore Los Angeles County homicide data using our interactive maps.

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