CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With less than a week left in 2013, Charleston police have responded to just one murder within city limits this year.
Officers are calling it a record low for at least the last 20 years.
The number of homicides per year is unpredictable, said Lt. Steve Cooper, chief of detectives, but it was a relief to have gone a whole year with only one murder. The relief was evident, especially when as recent as 2010 the city saw 11 people murdered.
"Murder is a very difficult crime to predict or deter," Cooper said. "Most victims are known to the suspects in one way or another, either domestic relationships or more commonly through a criminal affiliation.
"Most murders are not random."
He said most murder victims are involved in some kind of criminal activity, but there have been instances from time to time where the victim was "perfectly innocent."
This year's lone homicide, a murder-suicide, was such a case.
It happened on a cold February night on the city's West Side.
Patrick Price, 34, of Randolph Street barged into 36-year-old Michael Cassell's home at 926 Red Oak Street the night of Feb. 10 and shot Cassell to death before turning the gun on himself. The men's daughters were friends and often spent time together at the Red Oak house. Price's daughter told the Cassells during a visit that Price was abusive toward her.
Detectives said in February that it appeared Price attacked Cassell because his family had contacted authorities over the allegations of abuse.
"(Michael) died trying to save a little girl," Cassell's sister-in-law Andrea Holcomb told reporters in the days following the incident. "We were just trying to help her."
Cooper said the cases involving innocent victims, like Cassell, "really stick with you."
He said the homicide rate has peaks and valleys and is somewhat cyclical. Just a few years ago in 2010 the count stood at 11 people dead, but the next year, 2011, it fell to five murder victims. In 2012, there were 10 reported murders. In 2009, the city reported six deaths, double the three it reported in 2008.
"It's hard to take all the credit when you have a low murder total, just like you wouldn't want to take all the blame when you have a high murder total," said Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster. "A lot of murders are fueled by rage. They're impulsive, drug related, domestic violence related.
"But we recognize that a lot of times city police departments are evaluated on the murder rate and so we'd like for that to be as low as possible for all the obvious reasons," he said. "For a city this size we believe that's a very good number to have though of course we'd like to get it to zero."