More than half of 2021 killings in San Antonio remain unsolved, data shows

The increase in homicides has led to a declining clearance rate

(from left): Mark Valdez, Jessica Mitchell and Isaiah Sullivan. All three were gunned down in separate incidents in 2021. Their deaths remain unsolved. (Contributed photos, KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio’s 27-year high in homicides comes with another consequence — more unsolved cases.

In 2021, San Antonio police reported 160 homicides, the highest since 1994. See them mapped out here.

At least 85 of the 160 killings reported in 2021 remained unsolved, according to a KSAT analysis of police records. That comes out to a clearance rate of less than 50%.

By comparison, San Antonio police made an arrest or identified a suspect in 62% of cases in 2020, as of the following January. In 2019, that rate was roughly 70%.

Several factors led to jump in murders

Police believe a number of factors have led to the increase in unsolved killings. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said the department has seen an increase in unorganized, spontaneous crime.

“It seems that there are a lot of weapons out there, and people are very, very eager to pull a gun when there is some type of altercation,” SAPD Chief William McManus told KSAT. “People need to take a step back and take a deep breath and count to 10 before they decide they are going to pull a gun to hurt someone.”

Another issue is getting witnesses to talk to investigators, McManus said.

“It’s not that people just don’t want to talk to police because they don’t want to be involved,” he said. “It is fear of retaliation. And at times, victims or other potential suspects don’t cooperate because they want to handle it themselves.”

The spike in homicides has added to detectives’ workloads and is forcing the department to consider some changes going forward.

McManus says investigators will work on mapping out the killings, figuring out where to surge resources when necessary.

“We are going to stay long enough to be effective but not long enough to over-police,” he said. “Not necessarily patrolling, but investigating and using other tactics we plan to implement.”

Still, the city’s homicide rate — 11.15 per 100,000 people — remains relatively low compared to other large metro areas.

Victims’ families search for answers

The youngest victim in an unsolved shooting last year was Mark Valdez, 13. Mark was shot in the head while in his bedroom during a drive-by at his family’s South Side home. His family was devastated by losing him, but decided to donate his organs.

“He was so selfless, so whenever they told us he has a strong heart, lungs, liver and kidneys, we thought, ‘What would Marky want us to do?’” said Bianca Valdez, his aunt. “He would have said to help save others. That was what he was about -- helping others. He looked up to superheroes, and right now, he is our superhero.”

Another teenage boy, 15-year-old Tristian Rosas, was killed by a stray bullet while playing video games at home on the city’s West Side. Police quickly dispatched their helicopter in search of suspects, but the search was unsuccessful.

Isaiah Sullivan, a 16-year-old who aspired to be a veterinarian, was fatally shot and tossed out of a black SUV on the city’s Northeast Side. Police put out a description on a person of interest, but the case remains unsolved.

The first and final homicides reported in 2021 also remain unsolved.

Early New Year’s Day, U.S. Army Drill Sgt. Jessica Mitchell was fatally shot in her car off I-10. Police have put out information on the suspect vehicle, but the case has yet to be solved.

On Dec. 30, Leo Cameron, 47, was sleeping in downtown San Antonio before a man came up to him and started a physical struggle. The suspect is believed to have pulled a gun on Cameron, killing him before running away down the Riverwalk. Police recently released a surveillance image of the suspect.

Information on most of San Antonio’s unsolved homicides can be found here. Anyone with information on any homicide can submit their tips online and on the phone at 210-224-STOP.

Read more:

About the Author:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.