CHICAGO — There's no way around it — Chicago is America's reigning murder capital.
Last year's body count — 506 homicides, a 16 percent spike over 2011 — topped every city in the country.
The vast majority of the victims — 439 — were shot and killed amid a rash of shooting incidents that also soared in 2012. Police responded to 2,460 incidents where at least one person was shot, a 10 percent jump from the previous year.
The only silver lining: It could have been worse.
Through March of last year, Chicago witnessed a 66 percent increase in murders compared to the first three months of 2011.
The surge brought a crush of negative publicity from around the country — and around the world. Chicago was under siege.
All year long, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked police chief, Supt. Garry McCarthy, were on the hot seat.
By early summer, McCarthy responded with a comprehensive violence-reduction strategy that focused on using crime databases and localized patrols to identify people most likely to be involved or victimized by gang violence. Eventually, police were able to, as they put it, “decrease the increase” in shootings and murders.
In fact, during the last three months of the year, murders were down 16 percent over the same period in 2011 — a trend McCarthy said gave his department momentum heading into 2013.
However, the slayings kept coming into the new year.
More than anything, police will target warring gang factions and an influx of illegal guns that proved to be an especially deadly mix in 2012.
Many of the victims of Chicago's horrendous year were people known to be in “street professions” often associated with violence, like gangbangers and drug dealers.
But that doesn’t paint a complete picture of the dead. They were also school kids, hairdressers, mechanics, security guards, mothers and fathers. They were sons and daughters who left behind grieving families, including young children.
DNAinfo.com Chicago sought out the stories of the victims through public records and reaching out to friends, relatives, co-workers and more. The stories — and photos of the fallen — create a mosaic of the violence and heartbreak plaguing Chicago.
The data collected also revealed that the vast majority of the victims — 401 — died within a half-mile of their homes. Only 10 of the dead lived more than 10 miles away from where they were shot.
Saturday, the analysis showed, was the deadliest day of the week in 2012, with 102 homicides. Tuesdays had the fewest murders: 57.
The Chicago Police Department's official count of the slayings for 2012 is 506. DNAinfo.com Chicago's tally is based on 509, a difference tied to the way the medical examiner and the Police Department classify some cases, including homicides, where charges were not pursued.
To see a month-by-month breakdown of whose lives were lost to violence in 2012, check out our timeline, heat map and data pages here.