When Jo Ann Kehr and her husband moved to the neighborhood, “neighborhood” was a stretch.
“It was a cornfield,” said Kehr, who lives along Riverside Boulevard in Goshen. “There was nothing. It was country. Not much there.”
In the decades since, that area is markedly more built-up and lived-in. And one night in early October, it was more dangerous.
Michael Edwards was shot multiple times by a lone assailant outside his home at 1310 W. Clinton St., near Kehr’s residence, in an apparent random robbery attempt. It was the first time Kehr could recall a shooting near her home.
What happened Oct. 5 is the type of event that puts people on edge. But in the past year or so, violent incidents in Goshen haven’t been unique to Clinton Street:
• In the early morning of Oct. 9, 2011, Goshen College Professor James S. Miller was murdered by an intruder during a home invasion at 1736 Wildwood Court. The assailant has not been apprehended.
• In October 2011, Kiran C. “Ken” Patel was murdered by employee John Hawley at the former Goshen Inn & Conference Center. Hawley was later sentenced to 65 years in prison.
• On March 22 of this year, John Staub was shot dead northwest of downtown. His slaying stemmed from an earlier dispute between friends of Staub and the shooter, Daniel Heflin of Goshen. Heflin was later sentenced to 90 years in prison.
What’s happening in Goshen? Is living here more or less dangerous than it was a few years ago?
Numbers tell part of the story.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks crime statistics via Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), reported by law enforcement agencies nationwide.
For UCR purposes, “violent crime” falls into four categories: murder and non-negligent homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Aggravated assault is an attack that results in serious bodily harm and/or is committed with a deadly weapon.
Given those parameters, Goshen police reported one murder in year-to-date 2012 and two in 2011. They reported 14 rapes thus far this year, and 12 in 2011.
In addition, Goshen police reported 21 robberies in year-to-date 2012 and 17 in 2011. There have been a reported 16 aggravated assaults so far this year, with 11 reported for 2011.
By FBI standards, that’s 52 violent crimes thus far this year compared to 42 last year.
Police officials point out that the report is of the total number of reported incidents for those categories. The numbers don’t indicate arrests for the incident, cases determined to be unfounded, or cases inactivated due to victim request, uncooperative victims, etc. “Attempted to commit” are counted with the committed offenses with the exception of homicide.
Other statistics provided by Goshen police, listed in order of overall violent crime and followed by breakdowns for homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, include:
2010 — 35: zero, 13, 15 and 7
2009 — 39: 1, 14, 14, 10
2008 — 46: zero, 14, 20, 12
The mayor’s view
Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman acknowledges there are random violent acts in the Maple City, citing the Clinton Street shooting as a recent example. He also feels that generally people here are pretty safe if they don’t get involved in negative activities.
“A lot of these incidents are retaliatory for some reason or another,” he said. “... And there are some random acts that happen. By and large I don’t think many of them are, and I think the (Goshen police) detectives could confirm that a lot of them are not random acts.”
Kauffman also discussed random break-ins.
“...I guess in some respects you see that in a down economy,” he said. “Now we’ve been down for a while, so it’s not like 2012 should be significantly worse than 2011 because it’s not as bad an economy as 2011. But there are people running out of unemployment or their resources are spent, and maybe they’re doing other things to try to get money.
“My gut tells me that in an economy like this, when people are running out of resources, you could see some more of the robberies or break-ins or something like that.”
Over the last 13 months, Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department officers have also contended with several alarming incidents:
• On Sept. 20, the body of Mark Allen Miller, 44, was found along the south bank of the St. Joseph River near the intersection of C.R. 17 and Ind. 120. He’d been stuffed inside a 55-gallon steel drum. Miller, a Dunlap-area tattoo shop owner, had earlier been reported missing.
• On Aug. 30, John Huston, 19297 C.R. 20, fended off a home invasion at his residence north of Goshen after a man in his early 20s broke in. Huston suffered a hand laceration from the intruder’s machete-type weapon.
• On Oct. 25, 2011, home invasions and break-ins occurred throughout the day at several homes, a business, a church school and a church near Wakarusa. Police said three of the home invasions were by people who brandished a firearm, pointed it at the victims, made threats and demanded money.
For the January-September period this year, Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department officials reported a total 36 FBI-defined violent crimes: two murders, 11 rapes, 13 robberies and 10 aggravated assaults. UCR statistics for the Elkhart County police jurisdiction, listed in order of overall violent crime and followed by breakdowns for murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, include:
2011 — 37: 1, 16, 13 and 7
2010 — 42: 1, 9, 23 and 9
2009 — 62: zero, 20, 23 and 19
2008 — 58: 1, 23, 21 and 13
A victim reflects
Late in the evening of Oct. 25, 2011, Lance Mestach went to the door when the doorbell rang at his C.R. 36 home near Wakarusa. There he was confronted by a man with a gun.
Mestach took away the man’s revolver and wrestled him to the ground. The robber fled to a get-away vehicle, joined by an accomplice. Mestach fired a shot at the car. The perpetrators sat there for a couple more minutes before traveling east.
A little more than a year after the crime, Mestach talked about his family’s sense of security.
“You obviously think a little bit more now than what you did before, and I think that’s probably a good thing,” he said. “Because I think we, in a very conservative area — and Elkhart County is a very conservative area, especially out in the country part of the county — you just think nothing like that can happen. You don’t lock your doors all the time. You just think you’re safe from that hoodlum-type mentality that happens inside the actual city limits.”
“So we look a things a little differently now,” he continued. “When we hear noises, or if somebody would come to the door — which nobody has come to the door since then, that late — you’re more prepared. And prepared meaning either a weapon or lighting or something that would deter that from happening again.”
Mestach indicated he probably feels a little less safe now because of what happened. “But I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” he said, “let’s put it that way.”
‘A pretty good place’
For Jo Ann Kehr, the shooting in her Goshen neighborhood has had an impact.
“We’re a little bit cautious now,” she said. Kehr also indicated she and her neighbors would like extra lighting in the alley near the crime scene.
Last month’s shooting aside, Kehr is still fond of the place she calls home.
“We still like Riverside very much,” she said. “We like West Goshen. It’s a good place to live. Our daughter went to West Goshen School, and that was good. It’s still a pretty good place.”
When Jo Ann Kehr and her husband moved to the neighborhood, “neighborhood” was a stretch.
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