A rash of gun violence in Baton Rouge overnight Friday left four people dead and investigators searching for answers during the final days of 2017, already the deadliest year ever recorded for East Baton Rouge Parish. 

The three separate and apparently unrelated shootings, one involving two victims, occurred between 3 p.m. Friday and 12:30 a.m. Saturday and brought the city's homicide tally for 2017 to 103.

They followed several weeks of relatively low homicide numbers across the parish.

No suspects had been identified or arrested as of Saturday evening.

As investigators continue examining the circumstances surrounding an unexpected spike in violence, local officials have voiced concern and pledged their commitment to curbing violent crime in the weeks and months ahead.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said that Friday night was "certainly one of the deadliest 24 hours I’ve seen in the 44 years that I’ve been here." He said the night surprised him because homicide numbers had otherwise been falling over the past few months.

"We saw the downward trend and thought that would continue," Moore said. "You feel like you can finally take a breath and then you have four in one night. … It definitely is frustrating to see."

Four homicides in one night meant that limited manpower resources within the Baton Rouge Police Department — particularly a low number of homicide detectives — were stretched extremely thin, Moore said.

The department is currently operating with about 56 vacancies out of 698 total positions — a problem Moore and other officials have connected to the recent rise in homicides and other violent crime because people feel they can commit crimes with less fear of punishment.

Despite that overarching challenge, Moore said he believes Friday night's events were a fluke and not the start of a trend, especially since they all appear unrelated. He said violence sometimes erupts when people are taking time off from work, kids are out of school and normal routines are disrupted, as often happens around the holidays.

East Baton Rouge Parish broke its record for the number of homicides in one year earlier this month when the total reached 97. The previous record for the most intentional and unjustified killings in the parish was 96 in 2007, according to FBI statistics dating back more than five decades. 

The shootings

Carl Moore Jr., 32, was shot and killed around 3 p.m. Friday outside Prestige Barbershop in the 3200 block of Plank Road. Police listed an address for him in Baton Rouge of 4353 East Maribel Court. 

Speaking at the scene, Rejohnia Harrell identified herself as Moore’s cousin and said he was a native of Baton Rouge who had moved to Atlanta about four years ago to work in the music industry. She said he was back in town visiting family for the holidays.

Harrell said Moore had been getting his hair cut at that barbershop since he was in middle school.

Then around 6 p.m. Friday, Titus Ware, 35, was found inside his house in the 2400 block of Georgia Street suffering from gunshot injuries. He died on the scene.

His great-aunt Theresa Russell lives just around the corner from Ware and said she would see him around the neighborhood when she was outside working in her yard, always receiving a friendly greeting and an "I love you."

"I don’t know anything about what happened last night, but he was always respectful to me, regardless of the life he lived," she said. "I sure am going to miss the little bit I would see of him."

Russell said Ware had struggled with drug use for several years. Just a few months earlier, he asked her for a favor: instead of his usual request of a few dollars, he asked if she would drive him to rehab, acknowledging that he wanted to get clean and be more active in raising his two young sons.

"He was trying to do the right thing," she said. "He did love those boys. … Whatever happened, I just don’t think he deserved to die."

A few hours after Ware was killed, around 12:30 a.m. Kenneth Franklin Jr., 25, of 4980 Lower Zachary Road, Zachary, and Larry Williams, 22, of 348 Old Rafe Meyer Road, were fatally shot after an argument inside End Zone Daiquiri Bar — also on Plank Road. They were both transported to the hospital and later died.

Police said the two men were fighting with at least one other person and were asked to leave the bar. The altercation apparently continued into the parking lot, ending with shots fired. Police have not identified anyone else involved in the altercation, or said whether anyone involved in the argument fired the shots.

Dozens of relatives of Williams had gathered Saturday afternoon at the house where he lived with family members. Most declined to comment under the tragic circumstances, but Williams’ uncle Clarence Thomas said he was shocked and saddened by the news.

"He was just a quiet guy. I never would have expected this," Thomas said. "What these kids are going through now — with guns, drugs, violence — we never had any of that when I was growing up. … Every time you turn on the TV, someone has died."

Moving forward

Baton Rouge police released a statement Saturday letting the public know that the department would increase patrols throughout the city, focusing on the areas where crimes had occurred.

Despite the recent spike in violence, local officials expressed optimism about the future looking ahead to 2018.

Earlier in the day Friday, officials announced their choice for the new Baton Rouge police chief following a search and interview process that lasted several months. Louisiana State Police veteran Murphy Paul will take over leadership of the department and will appoint three deputy chiefs to serve directly beneath him in the coming weeks.

Speaking after the announcement of his selection Friday morning, Paul said he believes next year will be better and addressed the importance of improving relationships between police and the community they serve.

Moore said he thinks the new chief will steer the department in a positive direction and make progress combating violent crime. Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome also said she chose Paul for the job because he is experienced, progressive and visionary.

In a statement Saturday afternoon, Broome called the overnight homicides "concerning" and touted the efforts of the police department "to enhance safety in our community."

"We must stand united against the violence," she said. "As you prepare for Sunday worship … I am asking the citizens of Baton Rouge to unite with me, praying and believing that 2018 will be filled with peace."

Follow Lea Skene on Twitter, @lea_skene.