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See something? Say something

Half of the 12 murders committed in Natchez last year remain open, meaning that no one has been arrested or charged with the killings.

The simple answer as to why those murders are still open is that evidence is making its slow journey through the state’s crime lab.

Investigators are hamstrung by the backlog at the state’s crime lab, where the director says 31 guns from Natchez alone await ballistics testing. Some of those guns have been at the crime lab since 2017.

The results of those ballistics tests could link potential suspects to specific crimes and killings in the area that could help close the cases and get murderers off the streets.

Until then, however, all investigators can do is wait and hope the perpetrators do not continue to commit more crimes while they are on the loose.

In talking to Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong and local investigators about the issue recently, they were adamant that witnesses could help solve some of the open cases if witnesses were willing to provide identification and information in the cases.

Investigators said they are often frustrated by a lack of witness cooperation in cases, and Armstrong said he has even had victims of shootings refuse to cooperate with investigators even though they know the identities of the perpetrators.

“One of the things we really need to hone in on … is lack of participation from the citizens,” Armstrong said. “We know for a fact there have been any number of crimes committed where people saw it but they are not willing to come forward.”

Armstrong said without video, physical evidence or eyewitness accounts, investigators cannot make a case that will hold up in court against suspects.

The lack of participation from witnesses not only hamstrings investigators but also delays justice for grieving family members of victims, Armstrong said.

“They want law enforcement to have the magic wand to wave to be able to figure out who did what,” Armstrong said, “but it doesn’t work that way and as it is unfortunate that anyone succumbs to death in a violent way at the same time, law enforcement … we’re only as good as the community we serve.”

Armstrong said another problem that can hinder investigations is rumors that people hear and then wonder why no arrest was made in connection to the rumor.

Armstrong pointed out that many times such information passed on third hand does not hold up after investigation and that he and his investigators cannot charge someone unless the evidence bears out the information.

Some leads, however, do pan out, Armstrong said, noting that several weapons have been confiscated on credible tips from citizens.

The weapons have been sent to the crime lab and could help make cases in a few of the open murder investigations.

In the meantime, Armstrong reminds people that Crime Stoppers is a great anonymous way to report information and rewards of up to $1,500 are offered for information that leads to an arrest in a case.

Never fear, investigators say, tipsters have complete anonymity. The call center is located out of state, so no one will recognize anyone’s voice and a code is given for each tip. If the tip leads to an arrest you take the code to the bank and receive a check.

Crime Stoppers can be reached at 601-442-5000.

Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at 601-445-3540 or scott.hawkins@natchezdemocrat.com.