After three separate killings in about seven hours during a bloody Sunday in Baton Rouge, residents and law enforcement leaders are hoping to reverse the current trend and avoid another year like 2017 — when East Baton Rouge Parish saw a historic spike in homicides at a rate outpacing Chicago's. 

"I'm surprised and disappointed at this year's numbers so far," said Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul. "To come in as the new chief and set records for homicides, that's not a good look. We need help from the community to stop this culture of violence in Baton Rouge."

The parish has seen 35 intentional and unjustified killings since the start of 2018, according to records maintained by The Advocate. That number is nine more than at this time last year when the total stood at 26. 

While the 2018 numbers appear alarming in comparison, the 2017 homicide rate remained relatively low during the first half of the year before ramping up to unprecedented levels over the next several months and reaching a historic high of 106, easily toppling the former record of 96 homicides in 2007. 

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Violent crime often increases during summer months when children are out of school and hot weather pushes people outside. But the numbers last year remained unusually high throughout the fall and into the winter.

The three fatal shootings this weekend brought this month's homicide tally to 10 — the highest number in one month since December. The Advocate tracks unjustified and intentional killings across East Baton Rouge Parish, but the current numbers could change in the future since some cases are still under investigation and could later be ruled justified or unintentional. 

Paul took the reins of the Baton Rouge Police Department in January and said he has already noticed increased cooperation from residents coming forward with tips and information — a trend he hopes will help police solve more cases, which could ultimately deter crime. 

"One of the things that stands out to me is that the community is sick and tired of these murders, and because of that they're providing information to law enforcement," he said. "There's still some fear, but people are cooperating with law enforcement and we're thankful for that."

The new chief said he tries to get out to as many homicide scenes as possible. At the scene on Gus Young Drive late Sunday afternoon, he spoke with some residents about both about the incident in question and about larger efforts to curb gun violence across the city. Those efforts include ongoing initiatives aimed at reducing violent crime: the new Truce program and the federal National Public Safety Partnership, a U.S. Justice Department program announced last year that focuses on 12 cities across the country. 

Paul also said he plans to reallocate department resources, adding homicide detectives and sending patrols into neighborhoods that see the most violent crime. He asked for public input on where and when that presence is most needed.

"We want our kids to have a safe summer and we want them to know that this whole culture of no snitching, it was created by criminals," he said. "We just want them to tell the truth. Help us and tell us who the bad guys are."

A Deadly Day

Three men were dead and two others arrested following a spate of gun violence that started late Sunday afternoon and continued into the night. 

The first killing occurred around 3 p.m. when Arvion Finley, 20, was fatally shot on Gus Young Avenue  — not far from an elementary school and across the street from a community center where dozens of people had gathered to celebrate a child's birthday. He was pronounced dead on the scene, his body lying near the parking lot of a car wash as detectives canvassed the area and neighbors looked on.

Police arrested Robert Harrell, 40, in Finley's death. He was booked Sunday night into Parish Prison on counts of second-degree murder, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and illegal use of weapons.

Harrell had texted Finley earlier Sunday and asked him to come by the shop to get some money, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed by Baton Rouge police. And Finley wasn't the only one: Harrell also texted other shop employees to meet him at the location with "hammers," which police believe to be slang for a firearm. 

Harrell, of 1554 North 47th St., later told police that Finley had been threatening him and showed up at the shop with a gun, according to the affidavit. The man said he was wrestling the gun away from Finley when the weapon went off. That report is "inconsistent" with recordings of the shooting as well as several suspected gunshot wounds in Finley's back, police wrote.

A witness who called 911 told police he was with Finley all day and did not see him with a firearm.

Just hours after Finley's death, Baton Rouge police again responded to another fatal shooting, this time at the intersection of Main Street and North 17th Street.

Kelvin Howard, 41, was pronounced dead on the scene and another man was taken to the hospital with injuries. Both were shot outside an old bank building in a section of Mid City caught halfway between blight and redevelopment. 

Police arrested Deandre Hollins on Monday after he turned himself in. Hollins was booked on counts of second-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, illegal use of a weapon and aggravated assault. 

According to Hollins' arrest report, he was laughing and joking with the two victims but then became angry. He went to a van, armed himself with a gun and began shooting, police said in an affidavit for arrest warrant. Hollins then fled the scene in the van.

Four residents of the Raven's Outreach Center were present when the shooting occurred just around the corner from where they live, according to Dorothy Whitner, vice president of the center. She said the accused shooter and the two victims live there. Like all the other residents of the center, they are homeless military veterans who can get federally funded treatment for substance abuse, post traumatic stress disorder and other ailments, Whitner said.

Residents are not allowed to possess guns but can come and go as they please, as long as they are home by closing time at 10:30 p.m., Whitner said. The men were apparently doing military exercise drills, including pushups, in the bank's old drive-thru lane at the time of the shooting.

She said the men were friends and said she didn't know what sparked the incident. Other residents spent time Monday in crisis counseling because of the shooting, she said.

David Cano, 50, who has businesses and a home in the area, offered a different account of what happened.

He said the men appeared to be hanging out, drinking and "whooping it up a little bit" outside the bank building. Cano said he asked the men, who were standing around a van with the hood up, if their car had broken down. They said no and left soon afterward.

Cano said the men returned about 30 minutes later and he called the police. Before the officers arrived, the shooting happened.

The neighborhood experiences petty theft but little serious crime, Cano said, noting that the area is filled with services for the homeless and poor.

A single AND1 basketball shoe lay on its side Monday afternoon with blood streaked on its heel near the entrance of the old bank building where the shooting occurred and a sizable pool of blood was still wet at its center. Now owned by the city, the building is being refurbished for the parish Council on Aging with recovery dollars from Hurricane Gustav. Darrel Gissel, city-parish chief administrative officer, said the building is being leased to the council but the agency won't control it until the work is finished.

Later Sunday night, around 10 p.m., the third and final killing took place in a residential neighborhood off Sherwood Forest Boulevard. 

Another man was found with gunshot injuries in the 1800 block of North Harco Drive. Marcus Clay, 45, was shot multiple times and later died at the hospital. Police said they believe the shooting resulted from an earlier argument but had not identified any suspects.

Irene Clay, 62, said she was headed to her son's home off Choctaw Drive Sunday night. She was talking to his girlfriend, who told her that her son had gotten into some of kind of disagreement with another man at a nearby convenience store. 

Before Irene Clay could get there, she was told the man from the store followed her son to his home and shot him outside. 

The mother described her son as someone with a "good heart" and "who thought he knew everything." He was a former professional boxer who still sparred and worked as a carpenter. She said Marcus Clay was not someone who would be caught up in Baton Rouge's increasing violence. 

Clay said Monday that she had to tell her son's children — including a girl and boy ages 8 and 7 — their father had been killed.

Staff Writer Emma Discher contributed to this story.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.