Camden's homicide numbers the lowest in decades

Lourdes Gonzalez-Sherby reads a prayer Saturday as Father Mike McCue lights one of 22 candles at a vigil at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to honor the homicide victims in Camden in 2017. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

A church in Camden will be darker this New Year’s weekend, and locals hope it can stay that way.

Since 1995, Sister Helen Coles has held a vigil to honor the city’s homicide victims for the year, lighting a candle each hour for each person. That vigil was born out of a terribly violent year in Camden, where 58 people were killed. Since then, homicide numbers fluctuated, though always far too high for a city of 74,000.

For several years, Camden was dubbed the “most dangerous city in America” because of its violent-crime rate.

Last year, Sister Helen lit 44 candles in Camden, but as her two-day vigil was set to begin Saturday at noon, only 22 candles were to be lit at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at Broadway and Market Street. That’s the lowest number of homicides since the vigil began, and down 50 percent from this time last year.

“Since I’ve been police chief, Sister Helen and I have been working very hard together to put her year-end vigil out of business while healing those who have suffered from unimaginable suffering,” Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson said.

Thomson said 2017 saw the lowest number of homicides in Camden since 1987.

Chester, a city of approximately 33,000, recorded its 29th homicide of the year on Friday night. Philadelphia’s total stood at 315 as of Saturday afternoon, up nearly 15 percent from 2016.

In Camden, the first candle was to be lit for Carlos Rosa, 29, who was shot in his car on March 1. Among the others to be remembered is Natalise Gunter, a 4-year-old girl who was allegedly beaten by her mother’s boyfriend on July 15.  The year’s oldest homicide victim, Jose Rivera-Hernandez, was 53. He died Aug. 5, almost three months after a late-night fight on the 2700 block of Federal Street.

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