Gun Violence in Toledo

Numbers are rising amidst pressure to find a solution

Rosa Del (left) with Cheno (second from right) and their family.

Rosa Del’s youngest son is three. Even though it’s been months since that terrible night in December, Rosa doesn’t think her boy understands yet that his daddy isn’t coming home.

“Loud music passes by the house and he runs to the window. He thinks it’s his dad. And he starts saying, ‘Dad! Dad!’ And he gives up when he sees it’s not him, or it’s not his truck. He hears me talk on the phone and he hears a deep voice, and he thinks it’s his dad. It’s sad seeing that and it happens every day. He doesn’t understand his dad is gone.”

Rosa’s fiancee, Everardo Cheno, was called “Gordo” by most everyone. The two met in high school. Rosa describes Gordo as a sweet, funny man who went out of his way to make others laugh and feel comfortable. He was a hard worker and a better father. He always wanted to be at home, to be there for his family.

“He was a good dad and a good partner, always supporting me in everything I did,” Rosa said. “(He) always wanted to cater to me. He just wanted to be the dad that worked and provided for his family, and gave them everything.”  Gordo was almost always at home, according to Rosa. If he wasn’t working, he was there for her and his kids. He got along with almost everyone. Which makes what happened last December all the more mystifying and tragic.

Del and Cheno’s home on the 1100 block of Colton.

December 10, 2020
Gordo was in the living room of their home on the 1100 block of Colton St., playing a video game. There was a knock at the door. Gordo asked Rosa if she knew anyone who was coming over. “No, I don’t think anybody is coming,” she replied.

“I was in my room, in my makeup room, so I could see towards the living room, but not the door,” Rosa said. “Gordo went to go answer the door, and I heard two loud bangs, like pops. And I just froze, but my heart dropped.  I ran over to the door. My son was sleeping in the living room, and he got up and he tried to run toward his dad. And I didn’t know if that person was still at the door, so I grabbed my son and placed him out of the way, but he wouldn’t stop trying to run over to him. So I just grabbed my son and put him in my makeup room and locked the gate. And then I ran to Gordo, and he was on the floor.”

The shooter, whoever he or she was, was gone. Rosa called 9-1-1 immediately. By the time the ambulance arrived, it was too late. Everardo Cheno was pronounced dead at the scene. He was 29 years old.

Staggering increases
Gordo’s death came toward the end of one of the bloodiest years for gun violence in Toledo history. In 2020, 61 deaths were classified as homicides, 53 of them as a result of a gunshot. By contrast, 2019 saw 38 homicides within the city limits, 28 by gunshot. The 2020 numbers are the highest the Toledo has seen in 40 years.

“You can see that same increase (in gunshot related deaths) across the country,” said Sergeant Paul Davis of the Toledo Police Department. “This is not a specific issue just here in Toledo, but nationwide; violent crimes and homicides have been on the increase.”

Statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that in 2019, there were 39,707 gun deaths in America, 36% of which — approximately 14,000— were homicides. According to the website the Gun Violence Archive, that number rose to 43,538 gun deaths in 2020, over 19,000 of which were homicides.

These numbers are all early findings, stressed Lisa Geller, State Affairs Manager for the national organization the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “While we do have some preliminary numbers, and there has been some media reporting on gun deaths in 2020, we won’t have ‘official reporting’ from the CDC until the end of this year, or potentially early January 2022. So there’s a significant lag in the data, which makes it harder in real time to address this problem.”

But even taking 2020 out of the equation (until the CDC numbers are confirmed and made ‘official’), the steady rise of homicides attributed to guns in America is plain to see. 2017 saw 39,773 gun deaths across the country, and in the years following the number has hovered around 40,000 annually. In 2010 there were 31,672 gun deaths. These raw numbers don’t take into account population growth, but even adjusted, the number of deaths per capita attributable to firearms has increased dramatically in the past decade.

JoJuan Armour.

The Mayor’s Initiative
The statistical increase in our area spurred Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz to declare gun violence a public health crisis in February. The announcement was accompanied by the launch of a new program: The Mayor’s Initiative to Reduce Gun Violence. JoJuan Armour, a Toledo native and former professional football player, has been hired by the administration to coordinate the program.

“If I feel as effective as I think I am, why not contribute to help provide some solutions to the city I come from? To the families and friends in the community that they live in, where I grew up? So this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up,” Armour said.

Armour has participated in a variety of coordination and prevention programs for the past eight years. The rise in gun violence has touched his life, too. Last year, Jahneil Douglas, a UT football player who Armour coached in high school and in college, was shot and killed after a fight outside a pizza shop on Monroe Street. Douglas was only 22.

“I don’t think there is one particular answer, I think it is the partnership and having the ability to work cross-collaboratively to address it,” Armour said. “It’s legislation that needs to be passed. It is identifying what are the prevalent issues in the community, (like) economic deprivation. The issue is so broad.”

Objections and first steps
Choosing Armour to lead the Mayor’s initiative did not come without controversy. In 2011, Armour was convicted of disorderly conduct during a DWI arrest, during which he allegedly told a TPD officer he would shoot him in the chest. A statement issued by the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association explained why the TPPA objected to the hiring of Armour. 

“Although this is an outstanding story of personal perseverance and showing no ill will towards him as a person, Mr. Armour’s past is still troubling. It’s not only troubling but is a direct slap in the face considering some of the officers involved in the crimes are still with the department,” wrote Michael Haynes, president of the TPPA.

Armour declined to respond to those objections. “I don’t feel any kind of way regarding it. There’s too much work to do, and I don’t really focus on the negative. All I can do is focus on the positive, and collaborating, and making sure that those that are willing to participate and work and address gun violence in Toledo are given all the assistance that they need.”

The Mayor’s Initiative is currently in an assessment period, gathering data to inform strategies going forward. TPD has assigned Armour a liaison, Captain Joe Heffernan, and Armour is also meeting with the chiefs of Crime Intelligence Units. 

Sergeant Davis noted that TPD already works to be proactive in deterring gun homicides through their Gun Crime Intelligence Task Force, launched in 2019. The unit utilizes analytics to know where to best deploy police resources in the most efficient manner. “We’ll use those analytics … so the street crews, the gang unit and other units, know that these are the areas over the last few days or few weeks that are hot spots for crime. We need to focus our attention where so we can be more efficient and employ our resources most wisely. We use that data to assist us to be proactive,” Davis explained.

Gun violence statistics for 2019, courtesy the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. (efsgv.org)

More guns equals more violence
Lisa Geller, with a Masters Degree in health policy, has worked for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence since 2015. She argues that fighting crime at street level is treating the symptoms of the disease, rather than the root cause.

“The overarching issue is, there are a lot of guns in this country. And we know that gun sales were at record highs last year during the pandemic, people were panic buying guns. And including in the mix more guns is going to result in more gun violence, that’s just a fact,” she said.

“We’ve had a lot of states that have decreased their rates (of gun related incidents), so we can hopefully attribute that to policy change at the state level. Some states that have enacted a lot of gun violence prevention policies over the years have seen decreases in their rates of gun violence. And conversely, states that have done nothing have continued to see these rates skyrocket.”

Ohio policies have not trended toward prevention. In January, Gov. Mike DeWine signed a “Stand Your Ground” law into effect. He’d threatened to veto the bill it was attached to unless Ohio lawmakers also passed gun control proposals he’d recommended, but in the end DeWine backed down. Stand Your Ground laws have been linked to a rise of up to 11% in homicide rates, according to studies cited by the Rand Corporation, a policy think tank.

Gun control policies, like universal background checks or extreme risk protection orders, have widespread bipartisan support— around 90% in some surveys— but always seem to run into difficulties at the legislative level, Geller said. “These policies are supported by the people, but because the gun lobby is so powerful— although, I will say, less powerful than they used to be— they are still influencing these lawmakers.”

Stand up, speak out
Geller argued that the most effective way for Toledoans— really all citizens around the country— to fight back against the rising tide of gun violence is to use your voice. “One of the best ways to be influential is to be informed, to be aware of the facts. And we try to provide anyone who visits our website with all the facts that they need about gun violence in general, about policies,” she said.

“Know the facts behind the policies you’re advocating for. And don’t stop calling your legislators and telling them what this issue means to you. Why you believe in universal background checks or extreme risk protection orders, or banning high capacity magazines.”

JoJuan Armour agreed that the participation of the community is critical to inspiring progress. “Even before I grew up, there was always a saying: ‘It takes a community.’ And nothing’s changed. We still need a community. We still need individuals to participate in the redirection of these kids and our young people. So the biggest thing a citizen that wants to help can do is volunteer, participate and be active.”

Sergeant Davis said the general public is also one of the most important resources available to police on the ground. “Obviously, we can’t be everywhere, all the time, every minute of the day,” he said.  “We need help from the community to let us know immediately when crime is happening so we can get crews dispatched to that area and hopefully find the person that’s committing the crimes or at least get good leads and evidence to help us follow up and investigate those leads thoroughly. And (we need the public to) just have trust in us to do that, and trust us that we’re doing the best that we can, and that we’re out there to help them.”

Still waiting
Rosa Del still has hope that the police will be able to give her, and her family, closure regarding what happened to her Gordo last December. But, after months with no arrest in the case, her trust is wearing thin.

“I don’t want to think that maybe it won’t be solved. I’m scared it won’t be. But I don’t want to give up hope. I want to hope that the police are really going to put their all into it, and not just judge him by how he (Gordo) looks, because he has tattoos everywhere and think, ‘Oh, he’s just another guy from the street, this is probably just another homicide, another street thing.’ It’s not. Because that’s not what he was. Yeah, he could have done stuff when he was younger, but now he was a whole different, complete family man.”

If you have any information on the murder of Everardo Cheno, call Crimestoppers at 419-255-1111.