Some Ames residents fear a rise in violent crime after 6 homicides in a year and a half

Danielle Gehr
Ames Tribune

Michelle Kelso thought the gunshots she heard were part of the NPR report on the war in Ukraine she was listening to early May 9.

Instead, the gunshots were not far from her home in north Ames.

Kelso, a professor of sociology at George Washington University who splits her time between Washington, D.C., and Ames, later found herself staring out her window at the apartments across the street and wondering about the people affected and the man who died.

"To realize that as you're hearing gunshots, later someone was dying, it's very disturbing," Kelso said. "So I've been sitting here all day, kind of gazing over and wondering how people are doing. How are the other residents feeling? How is the family of the person who died doing, and how are the friends feeling?"

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The victim, Scott Lograsso, 38, died of multiple gunshot wounds outside an apartment building in the 3000 block of Regency Court, police said. They have yet to identify a suspect.

Ames' second homicide of 2022 — after 2021 saw the most homicides in 13 years — has some residents fearing that violent crime is on the rise. The data, however, do not necessarily match those concerns, or at least are not sufficient to predict a trend. 

Homicide in Ames up in 2021

Monday's shooting followed the death of Maccarone Declements in February, for which his roommate has been charged, and four homicides in 2021:

"That's concerning to see that jump," Ames Police spokesperson Cmdr. Dan Walter said. "Hopefully, it's not a trend, but we're always looking for ways that we can try to make that not be the case."

Some in the community Facebook page Ames People sounded off their concerns that the fabric of the college town is changing. For Kelso, this fear started when she moved into her north Ames home in 2018. The morning she and her husband put a bid in for the house, Iowa State golfer Celia Barquin Arozamena was murdered.

Her husband, a native of Romania, began to doubt the idea of low-crime, small-town America. She worried what his response to the most recent killing would be.

"I was afraid he was gonna say, 'It's time to sell because small-town life is not like you promised,'" Kelso said — though his response was less reactive.

Local fears of rising crime are coupled with nationwide trends of increasing violent crime. During the pandemic, violent crime rose by 5%, according to FBI data. Gun violence reached a record high in 2020, resulting in 124 people dead each day, according to a report from Johns Hopkins University.

"We've lived through the pandemic, and the pandemic instigated a lot of stress and people were not getting the care and the help that they needed. Addictions have restarted. Inflation is high," Kelso said. "It's like a cauldron, right? It bubbles and bubbles and bubbles and eventually, it's going to boil over. So as a community, it is something to take extremely seriously."

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But national trends aren't always indicative of local realities. Murder surged nationally in 2020, but in Ames, no homicides were reported — though there were a few attempted murders.

The total number of arrests decreased from more than 2,000 in 2018 to 1,400 in 2021, which was up from 1,200 arrests the year prior, according to Ames Police data. General assaults were also down, from 412 in 2019 to 279 in 2021, as well as harassment and domestic abuse — though the latter is often underreported.

Crime in Ames shows fluctuations over the past two decades. In 2003, 279 violent crimes were reported, the most recorded in the last 20 years, followed by 200 in 2007 and 178 in 2011.

From 2003 to 2014, no homicides were reported in Ames in nine of those 12 years. There were four homicides in 2008, following two in 2007, according to FBI data.

Studies find people's perceptions of crime have a record of inaccuracy.

Even as U.S. crime decreased by double digits from 2008 to 2016, a Pew Research Study found a majority of U.S. voters who responded to a survey in 2016 said that crime was getting worse — and Americans typically answer the same way every time they are asked.

Kelso argues that there is still reason to be concerned.

"Gun violence is gun violence," Kelso said. "We have such a problem in this country, and we have to start addressing it in other ways."

Victims, assailants are most often acquaintances 

Because most neighbors were asleep during the recent shooting, the number of witnesses is limited, Walter said. Police canvassed the area, looking for private security cameras that could identify someone near the scene of the crime.

In the other recent unsolved homicide investigation, the Halloween shooting at the Elks Lodge, police interviewed a significant number of people at the event, Walter said, but no leads have yet presented themselves.

Homicides in general occur between people who know each other — family, friends or roommates, for instance. In 2015, 10% of homicide victims nationally were killed by strangers, according to FBI data.

Social isolation and fears of the pandemic and now inflation could all be contributing to stress and strain on relationships that could escalate to violence, Walter said.

"Most of those people were somehow affiliated with each other. They were acquaintances," Walter said. "Then you have to look back at why are we seeing, is there more family violence, more family stress. … I don't think anybody has any clear answer."

Danielle Gehr is a politics and government reporter for the Ames Tribune. She can be reached by email at dgehr@gannett.com, phone at (515) 663-6925 or on Twitter at @Dani_Gehr.