It wasn’t quite a record-setting year for homicides in Tulsa — that dubious distinction fell on 2016 — but it was close. Tulsa police reported 81 homicides in the city in 2017, a figure only one homicide below the high mark of 82 set the year before.
June, a month in which 14 people were killed, was the deadliest month of the year.
The victims’ stories illustrate the varying nature of the rising homicide figures in Tulsa. Some, like 31-year-old Jade Thomas or 36-year-old Rabson Robert, were killed over petty arguments. Some, like 18-year-old Naway Willy or 29-year-old Joshua Barre, were killed during encounters with local police.
Others, like the mysterious shooting death of 16-year-old Darrin Wilson, whose body was found abandoned on an east Tulsa trail, remain unsolved.
Suspects in the deaths run the gamut, as well. There are men, there are women, there are deaths tied to gang members and deaths that resulted from yearslong domestic feuds. Some deaths, like that of 17-year-old Johnece Paulene Haney, or of 17-year-old Steven Hill, were tragic accidents due to reckless conduct with a firearm.
The deaths leave behind struggling family members and a community that continues to question why, in a mostly optimistic city, the homicide rate continues to spiral above that of the national per-capita average.
All information in this story is pieced together from police and autopsy reports, court documents, interviews and news stories.
Here are the stories of the bloodiest month of 2017.
Thursday, June 1
Once the calendar rolled over to June, it didn’t take long for the city to see its first violent death.
Micca Thompson and Ronnie Beetz had been in a relationship for more than a decade, and had two kids together, but it wasn’t until March 22 that the couple went “Facebook official,” tagging each other as being “in a relationship.”
“Now that is a facebook (sic) post I am happy with!” one person wrote.
“Lol,” Ronnie Beetz, 36, replied.
Despite the upbeat nature of their social media interactions, the relationship between Beetz, who was described by his family as an outgoing and “charismatic” guy who was finally figuring his life out and planning for the future, and the 38-year-old Thompson had been volatile for years, according to Beetz’s brother, Rick.
“It definitely wasn’t a healthy relationship,” Rick Beetz said, noting he and his wife lived with his brother and Thompson for a while. “But my brother was always on the defense if there were any physical confrontations.”
On June 1, Thompson called Tulsa Police at 1:37 a.m. saying she had been assaulted by Beetz, who she had then stabbed. Thompson, who a police report notes had “no visible injuries,” said she grabbed a sword — which the report calls a “Katana type” — and swung it at Beetz.
Tulsa Police Department Sgt. Dave Walker said in a release that police originally did not believe Beetz’s injuries were life-threatening, though a later police report stated the sword caused “extensive injuries.”
Walker said in the release that officers originally planned on arresting Thompson for domestic assault and battery.
Beetz is pronounced dead at Saint Francis Hospital.
“He was in such a good place because he was finally getting ahead in life,” Rick Beetz told The Frontier. “And the biggest tragedy is he was taken from us, when he was the most happy he’d ever been.”
Thompson was eventually charged with second-degree murder, but later pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Friday, June 2
Two people were killed in the late hours of June 2, although whether the deaths were connected or not depends on how you look at it.
Shortly before 11 p.m., Tulsa police arrived at the America’s Value Inn at 10117 East 11th Street after receiving calls about a shooting, and found 36-year-old Rabson Robert laying on the ground outside of room 118.
Within an hour of police finding his body, Robert is pronounced dead at Saint John Medical Center.
As police officers were investigating the Robert shooting, a suspect description went out — dark skin, dark hair. About a half-mile east of the motel where Rabson was shot, TPD officer David Hornok attempted to stop Naway Willy, believing the 18-year-old matched the suspect description.
Willy, who bragged on Facebook about being a member of “52 Red Mob,” a subset of the “Bloods” gang, spoke briefly with the officer then fled to the east.
Dashboard camera footage, released by TPD, shows Willy sprint away from officers who chase after him with weapons drawn. Everyone quickly runs off screen — the vehicles filming the encounter are parked and stationary — and no body camera footage exists of what happens next, though body microphones record gunshots fired by Hornok during the pursuit.
Willy, according to a TPD media release, pointed a handgun at officers during the brief chase, and police later told NewsOn6 that a gun found near Willy’s body matched a firearm the teen held in a profile picture on Facebook.
Hornok was eventually cleared in the shooting.
Saturday, June 3
Megan Aviles, asleep inside her home, wakes to find her husband, Tulio “Alex” Aviles in a panic. According to interviews with police, Megan said Alex told her that he had “met up with an individual” at a motel who had previously threatened him.
Alex told his wife, according to her interview, that he had pulled out his gun to scare the man, pulled the hammer back, and then was surprised when the gun fired.
While conducting interviews at the America’s Value Inn related to the Rabson shooting, investigators got a crucial tip. Witnesses identified Tulio Alexander Aviles, aka “Alex Aviles,” as Robert’s shooter.
At some point during the night, Rabson had an encounter with Celso Aviles, Alex Aviles’ brother. Alex, police were told, threatened Rabson with a “large pistol” that was tucked into his waistband.
Witnesses told police they heard a single gunshot, followed by tires squealing. After going outside and finding Robert’s body, multiple witnesses noted both Alex and Celso’s vehicles were missing.
Following up on this tip, officers began surveillance on Alex Aviles’ home at 7921 East 7th Street, an address just off of Memorial Drive south of Admiral Place. While there they saw Alex exit the home in a gold Toyota that matched the description witnesses had given previously.
Aviles drives to a QuikTrip at Admiral Place and Memorial Drive and is arrested for the Robert shooting.
Wednesday, June 7
Darrin Wilson, a 16-year-old student and football player at East Central High School, tells his family he is going out with friends to play basketball. It is the last time Wilson’s family sees him alive.
Thursday, June 8
Darrin Wilson is at a party with friends, according to police.
A homeless man driving down a path in a secluded field east of South 129th East Avenue and south of East Admiral Place finds a body face-down near the trail. The area is well-known among police as a dumping spot for stolen vehicles, and its extensive trail-system makes it a hotbed for ATV riders.
On the body, investigators find a gunshot wound to the right chest along with other injuries, but they do not find a cell phone or any kind of identification. Unable to identify the body, police circulate images of the clothes the victim was wearing at the time of his death — turquoise shorts and white Nike basketball shoes.
As images of the person’s clothing are circulated by the media, Wilson’s family notifies police they believe he is the homicide victim. Within hours, Walker tells the media police have positively identified the body, but declines to release the teenager’s name.
9:55 a.m., Friday
It wasn’t the first time authorities had tried to intervene in one of 29-year-old Joshua Barre’s mental health episodes.
It was the last.
Barre suffered from schizoaffective and bipolar disorders, and likely was living with Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, according to his mother. Nevertheless he was a talented artist who loved to draw comics and whose artwork was often indistinguishable from a professional artist’s.
Shortly before 10 a.m., residents called police to report that a barefoot Barre was carrying two large knives and walking north on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just south of East 46th Street North.
Both Tulsa police and Tulsa County deputies responded, and began trailing Barre — whose mother later said was likely off his medication — as he continued to walk.
Barre approached the Super Stop convenience store just south of East 46th Street North. Store surveillance video released by Tulsa Police shows a shirtless Barre walking into the convenience store before collapsing after being shot six times by pursuing authorities.
The shooting garnered national interest, with its circumstances intersecting both with the outcry against alleged police brutality along with cries for changes in how the criminal justice system treats the mentally ill.
Later in June, the Tulsa Police Department completed its investigation into the shooting, and in August Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler announced there would be no charges against the officers involved in Barre’s death.
Sunday, June 11
Tory Barfield, driving a white 2010 GMC Yukon Denali, drove to 39 North Xanthus Avenue to pick up Ashley “Sevyn” Good. Good, 24, who is known to authorities as having Irish Mob gang ties, has no prison record but does have several prior convictions for crimes like larceny or joyriding.
Barfield later tells police he drove Good from her home to an address at 1104 N. Delaware. While there, Barfield told authorities, he went inside to sleep while Good drove a mutual friend to the store.
Barfield’s wife, Darsha, told police she tried unsuccessfully to call her husband several times, so she called a woman named Jade Thomas, who lived at the North Delaware Avenue address. Darsha Barfield told police she heard Thomas go outside and confront a woman, then yell that she had been shot.
Anthony Sullivan, Thomas’ boyfriend, found his girlfriend semi-conscious outside the house and later told police Thomas said she had been shot by “Sevyn.”
Police determined that Good ran from the scene and fled in the white SUV in which she had traveled to the address.
Tulsa police responding to a shooting call at 1104 N. Delaware Avenue find 31-year-old Jade Thomas, aka Jade Jones, lying in front of the residence with a gunshot wound to her chest.
Jade Thomas is pronounced dead at St. John Medical Center.
Monday, June 12
Police release the identity of the teenager whose body was found dumped in an east Tulsa field the week before, confirming 16-year-old Darrin “Da Da” Wilson as the victim.
“I just want to know why,” Wilson’s 12-year-old sister Elisa Wilson told NewsOn6. “Like, did he do something wrong?”
Walker said Wilson had no criminal history, but may have been “on the fringe” of gang activity. Though police have maintained they believe Wilson likely knew his killer, the case remains unsolved and no suspect information has been released.
Wednesday, June 21
Tulsa police received a tip that Ashley Good, wanted in the death of Jade Thomas 10 days earlier, was holed up in a home in the 50 block of North Utica Avenue.
Ashley Good is arrested. Police located a firearm and bullet-proof vest in her possession at the time of the arrest.
“This one was a little more difficult because she was a little bit more sly and wiry. But, eventually, people get tired of having us all around them,” TPD Homicide Sgt. Dave Walker told NewsOn6.
Wednesday, June 14
Three teenagers, including 17-year-old Steven Richard Hill, were handling a loaded shotgun in the garage of a home on East 51st Place North near North Peoria Avenue.
One of the teens, according to police reports, was holding the gun on his lap when it fell. During an attempt to catch the gun, the teen accidentally pulled the trigger.
The shotgun fired once, striking Hill in the head.
First responders stop attempts to revive Hill. Police interview the two other teens, but no arrests follow and no charges are filed in the death.
Thursday, June 15
It was raining when the fight broke out. Alejandro “Cherokee” Contreras, a homeless Tulsa man, decided to confront Barry Hotzler Jr. (also known as Barry Holtzer,) accusing the 40-year-old man of stealing from him.
Witnesses later told police that Hotzler, who was 6-feet, 2-inches tall and weighed about 160 pounds, came armed with a metal pipe and quickly took control of the fight, eventually pinning Contreras to the ground, beating him.
That’s when Derrick Mathes, 40, came down a nearby hill and stabbed Hotzler, witnesses said, ending the fight. An autopsy report later found that Hotzler was stabbed at least seven times — once in the head, three times in the torso, twice in his arms, and at least once in his leg.
- Friday, June 16
The fight had happened near the 300 block of North Denver Avenue, not far from the Tulsa Jail and that’s where Hotzler’s body was found about eight hours later, abandoned on a bike path behind the facility.
A woman, walking near the trail, alerted jail employees to the body, who quickly discovered Hotzler had died from his wounds.
After speaking with Contreras, Tulsa police find Mathes not far from the scene of Hotzler’s death and transport him to the police department for questioning. While there Mathes told investigators that he heard the fight, but denied taking part in it.
Saturday, June 17
Norris Deon Williams was not supposed to handle a firearm again. The 21-year-old had, about two years prior, pleaded guilty to a host of crimes which included assault and battery on a police officer.
That conviction meant Williams had become a convicted felon, a designation that precluded him from ever using a firearm again.
But still, in the back room of a home in the 5400 block of North Hartford Avenue, Williams pointed a pistol at his girlfriend, 17-year-old Johnece Haney, and said “don’t be scared.”
With the gun pressed against his palm while manipulating the weapon’s slide, it accidentally went off. Williams was struck in the hand and the bullet then hit Haney in the chest, ripping through her lungs and heart before exiting out her lower back.
That shooting caused a chain reaction. In the commotion, another man — James Hall — fell and accidentally shot himself in the leg.
Williams, Hall and Haney arrive at OSU Medical Center seeking treatment for their wounds. Tulsa police arrive at the hospital shortly after and speak with the person who drove the trio there. That person gives the location of where the shooting happened, an address that contradicts statements later made by Hall and Williams that they had been shot while walking in nearby Chamberlain Park.
Despite attempts by hospital personnel, Haney dies from the gunshot wound.
After admitting the Chamberlain Park explanation was a cover story, Williams cops to the accidental shooting and is arrested for first-degree manslaughter, as well as pointing a deadly weapon and possession of a firearm after former conviction of a felony.
The city’s 41st homicide was perhaps one of the most perplexing of the entire year.
Just before 1 a.m., police received calls from various residents in a neighborhood in the 800 block of North New Haven Avenue saying they heard multiple gunshots. Responding police found gunshots to a home there and spoke to more witnesses who said they heard the gunfire and saw a white male in the area.
But no one saw the actual shooting itself.
Police receive another call from the same residence, this time from homeowners who said a white male had kicked down their door.
But this time they were prepared, firing back at the intruder who fled southwest along Marion Avenue.
A police officer driving in the area spotted a white male standing next to a parked vehicle in front of 829 N. Marion Avenue. The officer drove past, then turned around, hoping to speak to the man he’d seen.
That’s when the gunfire erupted. Three quick shots rang out, and the officer — believing he was the target — slammed on his brakes and hid behind the car, ordering the man he believed had fired the gun to the ground.
That man, 36-year-old John David Schmidt, was compliant and was arrested shortly later.
After police arrest Schmidt, they make a shocking discovery. Inside the vehicle Schmidt was standing outside was the body of 33-year-old David Ray Willis. Willis had been shot three times, once in the chest and twice in the back.
Once inside a police vehicle, Schmidt reportedly claimed to be responsible for the shooting.
Willis, police said, was a totally innocent bystander, and was targeted by Schmidt by pure happenstance.
Willis’ mother, Paula Wood, told The Frontier her son had moved home to help his parents take care of their house and would often sleep in his vehicle so he could listen to music without disturbing them.
“He had the biggest heart,” she said. “He would do anything for anyone.”
Wood said that she now has to use a walker, and her husband had lost a leg due to a medical condition, so her son had moved into the family home to help with maintenance and help pay the mortgage.
At her son’s funeral, Wood said she read the following passage.
“Remembering David, as I sit here crying about losing you; I can’t help thinking back over the wonderful years that I was lucky enough to have had you as my son. From the day I learned I was carrying you under my heart till the day that all I have of you are the memories that I will carry in my heart. You were taken too soon. I will never forget the Sunday morning the doctors handed you to me. I will always remember you as a child; my little Dennis the Menace, who would tease his little brother by chasing him with wolf spiders since he was so afraid of them, who stuffed him into the dryer and turned it on, so I had to rescue him, but after you grew into a man you developed the biggest kindest heart; A heart that was so full of love. You would always help anyone. I will always remember that beautiful smile that you always had on your face. I will remember that you never failed to say I love you mom if I was upset or when you were leaving . I am so lucky to have had you my sweet wonderful David.”
Shortly before midnight, police were notified by a man named Jose Gomezbaca about his missing wife.
Married in 2012, the couple had fallen on hard times, and Gomezbaca’s wife — 26-year-old Elizabeth Rodriguez — had been seeking to separate from her husband, family members told the Tulsa World.
Thursday, June 22
Gomezbaca’s phone call to police about his missing wife appeared to be a ruse, investigators said. As Rodriguez and her family arrived at their home in the 8000 block of East Second Street, Gomezbaca was waiting.
When police officers arrived at the scene, they found Rodriguez dead inside her vehicle. She had been shot 12 times, an autopsy later confirmed, with bullets essentially peppering her entire body.
After the shooting Gomezbaca fled in a grey pickup. He was never arrested, but TPD Sgt. Dave Walker told The Frontier Gomezbaca and the pickup were tracked to Mexico, but there’s “not been much on him since October.”
Saturday, June 24
Tulsa police spot what they believe is a stolen Dodge Challenger Hellcat — an expensive muscle car with a price tag north of $60,000 — outside a residence near 4th Place and Garnett Road.
Seeing three people standing next to the car, officers approached the house to ask the group about the vehicle. Suddenly a man, later identified as 47-year-old Jimmy Bevenue, burst through a back door of the home.
Bevenue, a multiple-time felon with convictions stretching back to the late 1980s, was armed with a handgun, police later said. After exiting, Bevenue quickly ran to a neighboring home and began to kick in the door.
During the dramatic body camera video, an exchange of gunfire can be heard for more than 30 seconds before it quiets down. The video eventually shows officers finding Bevenue’s body lying on the ground next to a handgun.
Three officers — Chad Murtaugh, Tracy Komasa and Cpl. Joel Ward — fired shots during the exchange. All were cleared.
Bevenue was hit by four bullets according to an autopsy report. His death was the third — and final — officer-involved shooting of June.
Monday, June 26
Denerrious Deontae Hopkins knew the Turley Food Mart well — he had worked security at the convenience store and lived nearby with his girlfriend and three young children.
But on June 26, as Hopkins stood in the store’s parking lot, a car pulled up near him. A man exited the vehicle and opened fire, striking Hopkins three times, before speeding away.
Tuesday, June 27
Hopkins, 26, is pronounced dead at St. John Medical Center.
Hopkins’ girlfriend, Krystal Givens, told NewsOn6 her boyfriend was trying to walk away when he was confronted and attacked.
“I didn’t get to talk to him. I didn’t get to see him,” she told the station. “This is my soulmate, this is my love … I was afraid to lose him.”
Investigators at first had limited information — no motive and no suspect. The only thing they had to go on were witness statements that the shooter had a street name of “Peewee.”
Thursday, June 29
It took two days of investigation, all of which is carefully detailed in a lengthy police report, before Emari Ali Jordan, 20, was publicly identified as the possible suspect.
In charging documents, police laid out the lengthy steps taken to identify Jordan, a Midwest City man whose prison record included only a brief stay for second-degree burglary in 2016.
Investigators were eventually told “Peewee” had a Facebook account under the name “Ali da Typ,” which showed a young man concerned mostly with money, women and his job of cutting hair.
“Been arrested?” the account owner typed out on a survey once about a month before the shooting. “Too many times.”
That account was the crucial break TPD needed. Though the only name shown was “Ali da Typ,” Facebook lets users select a unique URL where their page is hosted. “Ali,” it turned out, had selected a url personalized to “Emari.Jordan.”
Realizing Jordan fit the age and race of the suspected shooter, TPD Det. Max Ryden got an image of the 20-year-old from a state database and showed two witnesses, who identified him as the person involved in the shooting.
Jordan was eventually arrested in July.
Hours after Jordan was charged with killing Hopkins, police were faced with another whodunnit to solve.
Keely Birch, 18, was in the passenger seat of a vehicle driving through the Addison Apartments, 10156 E. Admiral Blvd., when two men — later identified as Eddie Lopez (aka Eric Lopez) and Jose Manuel Arzuaga-Ortiz — were talking.
That group reportedly yelled something at the vehicle, police said. When the car stopped and Birch exited, there was gunfire.
Birch was struck 5 times, according to an autopsy report, with bullets ripping through his arms, legs, chest and backside.
Though Lopez was arrested for the killing on July 2, it took more than a month before detectives had a clear picture of what happened after the shooting.
In a panic shortly after the shooting, Lopez had messaged a woman named Davina Baker, telling her it “was urgent,” according to an affidavit filed in August.
Lopez, who had apparently buried the handgun used in the shooting, asked Baker to pick him up. The two went to another apartment where Lopez showered, then they returned to where he had been picked up, and Baker dug up the weapon.
Baker said that Lopez told her he had shot someone and needed to flee to Puerto Rico, the affidavit stated. They then drove to a motel near 1100 South Garnett Road where Baker again buried the gun.
Baker said she was instructed the next day to again dig up the gun, which she eventually gave to someone else to hide.
Lopez was eventually charged with murder, and Arzuaga-Ortiz, Baker and a woman named Dayanaira Pacheco were eventually charged with being accessories after the fact to Birch’s death.
Charges against Arzuaga-Ortiz, Baker, and Pacheco were later dropped by prosecutors.
Suspect: Micca Thompson pleaded guilty to an amended charge of first-degree manslaughter on Sept. 6. She was sentenced to seven years in prison, 85 percent of which must be served before she’ll be eligible for parole.
Victim: Rabson Robert
Suspect: Tulio “Alex” Aviles was charged with first-degree murder, but motions have delayed his court case and a preliminary hearing has not yet been scheduled. His next court appearance is set for Jan. 18.
Victim: Darrin Wilson
Suspect: Nearly seven months after his death, there is still no suspect in Wilson’s death, and police have little still to go on. Tulsa Police Homicide Sgt. Dave Walker told The Frontier in December that there was “nothing new one the case.” It remains one of a handful of open cases from 2017.
Victim: Joshua Barre
Suspect: The shooting was ruled justified in August and Tulsa Police Officer Donnie Johnson, 32, and Tulsa County sheriff’s deputies Brandon Walker, 41, and William Ramsey, 49, returned to duty.
Victim: Barry Hotzler
Suspect: Derrick Mathes waived his preliminary hearing on Nov. 29, a signal that he was likely to accept a plea deal in Hotzler’s death. But his next hearing on Dec. 4 was passed to Jan. 8, 2018, so he remains in the Tulsa Jail.
Victim: Johnece Haney
Suspect: Norris Deon Williams III pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter on Nov. 28 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 85 percent of which must be served before he becomes eligible for parole.
Victim: David Willis
Suspect: John David Schmidt was originally ruled competent to stand trial, but that decision was reversed in Tulsa County District Court on Dec. 13. Court records show a scheduled hearing next April in which Schmidt could again before found competent to stand trial.
Victim: Keely Birch
Suspect: Eric Lopez did not offer a plea during his Oct. 9 District Court Arraignment, leaving District Judge Doug Drummond to enter a plea of not guilty on Lopez’s behalf. Court records show Lopez is set for trial on May 14, 2018.