LAWRENCEVILLE -- After four consecutive years of decline, 2012 saw Gwinnett County's murder climb by nearly 50 percent.
A total of 41 homicides -- including officer-involved shootings and other "justified killings" like those in self-defense -- were reported in the county last year, according to statistics obtained from the Gwinnett Medical Examiner's Office. That number, Chief Forensic Investigator Ted Bailey confirmed, ties the mark for the second-most homicides in any year in Gwinnett history, and is a significant increase from the 2011 total of 28.
Murders had declined annually since a historically bloody 2007 that included 50 such deaths.
Gwinnett County police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith, though, said the most recent statistics were no cause for alarm.
"It's not particularly concerning," Smith said. "(The totals) have kind of come and gone."
Residents came down on both sides of that statement.
Lifelong Gwinnettian Tina Cousino, who now lives in Buford, said her 20-year-old son recently asked her to buy a gun "because he feels we are not safe here anymore." She said she won't do so, but "that's not to say I feel safe where we are. I don't."
Lawrenceville resident Nate Horton disagreed.
"Most of the murders in Gwinnett are not random violence, at least from my perspective," he said. "The majority seem to be either domestic cases, where someone is killed by a family member, or it is drug (or) gang related. Since I am reasonably confident no one in my family wants to or has reason to kill me, and I am not involved in drug or gang activity, I feel safe."
Horton had a point.
Gwinnett County PD, which covers all unincorporated parts of the county and those cities without municipal police squads, investigated a total of 32 homicides in 2012, including four fatal officer-involved shootings.
Of the 28 that didn't involve police officers, 21 were either domestic or drug-related, Smith said. That is to say, basically, that they were not random.
"The majority of these that we see are things like drug dealers robbing each other," Smith said.
The most significant homicidal incident in another jurisdiction was also domestic. In February, 59-year-old Jeong Soo Paek went to his family's spa on Buford Highway inside Norcross city limits, killing his two sisters and their husbands before turning the gun on himself.
Three more people were killed later that month in a single drug-deal-gone-bad at a Lawrenceville apartment. By March 1, the county's murder total had already climbed to 12.
All that is not to say Gwinnett did not have "some notable 'true victim' homicides," as Smith put it, in 2012. Those included:
-- In February, 15-year-old Nick Jackson was shot and killed while trying to prevent armed robbers from entering his parents' Norcross home. It's now believed that his father's involvement in cocaine trafficking led the suspects to the house.
-- Twenty-four-year-old Monique Marlowe was inexplicably shot and killed Sept. 21 while working outside the Hertz Rent-A-Car location on Satellite Boulevard. No suspects have been caught or even named, and Gwinnett police have so few leads that the case is deemed "uncategorized," Smith said.
-- Paul Sampleton Jr., 14, was shot and killed inside his mother's Grayson townhome on Dec. 19, his last day of school for the semester. Robbery is the believed motive, but no suspects have been arrested.
Overall, Gwinnett's 41 homicides in 2012 tied the county's 2006 tally for the second-most ever. After spiking at 50 in 2007, the murder count had dropped every year since -- with 38 in 2008; 36 in 2009; 30 in 2010; and 28 in 2011.