DOWNTOWN — The city is on track to have 700 murders in 2016, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said Wednesday. That would be the highest number of homicides in Chicago in nearly 20 years.
Homicides have already nearly doubled this year, with more than 93 murders since the start of January. There were only 52 murders in all of January and February last year.
If the city does have 700 or more homicides this year, it will be the highest number of murders since 1998, when 704 people were killed.
Alvarez decried the city's "horrific" homicide count in a breakfast speech to the City Club Wednesday, saying "the violent crime and the horrific crime rate here in the City of Chicago" is her top concern.
The cause? An "epidemic of gun violence and a flood of illegal guns," she said, echoing what Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy have been saying for years.
Shootings are also up this year, and the number of people killed in shootings has risen dramatically from last January and February. Interim Supt. John Escalante said social media has played a significant role in this year's rise in shootings.
The "overwhelming majority" of this year's murders stem from gang violence, said Frank Giancamilli, a Chicago Police spokesman, in a statement in early February.
"These are not random acts of violence or criminals targeting the innocent; these are rivalries that are unfortunately settled with a gun," Giancamilli said.
Police are "working hard to disrupt the cycles of gun violence" that plague Chicago, said Anthony Guglielmi, a Chicago Police spokesman, on Wednesday. Officers have targeted gang members and the city is working to demolish vacant buildings in high-crimes areas, Guglielmi said.
"But the biggest public safety challenge facing Chicago remains the lack of accountability for those who engage in gun crime," Guglielmi said. "We will continue to hold offenders accountable and fiercely advocate for common-sense gun safety laws that can save lives and make our communities safer and stronger."
The year has already seen several high-profile murders: Two friends, 17-year-old Sakinah Reed and 16-year-old Donta Parker, were shot and killed while standing at a corner in South Shore.
On Feb. 5, 25-year-old Aaren O'Connor was apparently hit by a stray bullet while sitting in her car outside of her Pilsen apartment.
A family of six, including two young boys, was found dead in their home in early February. They had been stabbed, beaten and one of them was shot.
Just days later, activist Matthew Williams, who had called for peace in the city for months, was shot while playing videogames in a friend's house.
Most recently, a cab driver was found dead, shot in his head, in Lincoln Square.
• 2016 Off To A Bloody Start as Shootings Double
• Chicago's Bloody Winter Continues in First 8 Days of February: 17 Dead
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