10 days, eight murders

86: number of shots fired in police shootout with Johnny Lee Wicks last week.

By the time the photo of murder victim Contance Wiesner popped up on reporters’ screens—noon on January 11, gray curls framing a droll 74-year-old face, police searching for anyone who knows anything about who killed her in her midtown apartment—eight people had been murdered in Vegas this year, twice as many as in the first 10 days of 2009.

A few days earlier, I’d driven to the site of the year’s first homicide, a shooting behind the 7-Eleven at Lake Mead and Jones, and been interrupted by the unfolding of a new, separate homicide scene across the street—a 16-year-old had been shot. The 7-Eleven clerk shrugged nervously when I asked about the encroaching violence. Above her, on ladders, two guys worked on surveillance cameras.

This was the day after Johnny Lee Wicks opened fire in the federal courthouse, killing an officer, drawing 81 rounds from law enforcement in an all-out gun battle that left Wicks dead in front of the Fifth Street School, its windows popped with bullet holes. Add to that a tire-store employee shot and killed in a robbery, two women shot and killed by one’s estranged boyfriend, several officer-involved shootings—a macabre start to 2010. But when I walked past the dirt where Wicks lay dead the day before, the school windows had just been replaced, the traffic was moving again along the Boulevard, court employees were heading back to work; a new year still ahead.

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