CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — People in cities across the country this year have faced stay-at-home orders, restrictions on gatherings, long lines at places like medical centers and grocery stores and violent unrest.
Now we’re learning more people are also falling victim to a rise in a specific type of crime: carjackings.
In some places, the numbers have nearly tripled.
Earlier on Thursday, Chicago Police said four suspects shot and killed a 65-year-old retired firefighter while trying to carjack him.
Investigators say the man managed to pull his own gun and fire back before he died, but the criminals got away, NewsNation affiliate WGN-TV reported.
You might think to yourself: How can someone steal my car while I’m in it? Couldn’t I just hit the gas and take off?
For too many people, the answer is no.
Some are threatened at gunpoint. All have to make a split-second decision between standing firm or surrendering.
“My entire body was shaking,” said Katie, a Chicago woman who was recently carjacked. “He had the gun pointed at my chest and that’s when he started to demand everything from me.”
She had just parked her car and was walking up to her apartment when it happened.
A crew of at least three men stole her phone, wallet and car in Chicago earlier this month. Police found the car the next day, with a bullet hole in the side.
“I know I’m able to get through it but what’s frustrating is they’re getting other people too and that’s not OK,” she said.
There have been 1,125 reported carjackings in Chicago through mid-November, according to police data reviewed by NewsNation.
That’s a 124% increase over last year and far more than in any of last 5 years.
In Washington D.C., between March and mid-October, carjackings and attempted carjackings jumped to 193 from 89 during the same period last year — a 117% increase.
In Louisville, Kentucky, carjackings shot up during that same period from 68 to 194 — or 185%, according to police.
“You can’t even feel safe sitting inside your car anymore,” Katie said.
She’s not alone in that sentiment.
“I’m thankful I’m alive. Thankful I’m still here,” said Lamont Liner.
Liner, a Lyft driver, was carjacked two weeks ago on the South Side of Chicago.
In August, a surveillance video shows a man following a woman into a building, grabbing her keys and taking her car while an accomplice waits nearby in a Jeep.
“When you’ve got a gun pointed at you, you know this is life or death,” she said.
Then there’s 71-year-old Paul Lee, carjacked in March. He was injured trying to hang onto his vehicle.
“I was in total shock,” Lee said. “My immediate response was to grab the car, thinking I can stop the guy and you can’t. These guys know what they’re doing. He accelerated and I held onto the door and got dragged for two or three seconds until I fell and hit the street.”
Around the nation, the story is the same.
Police bodycam video from mid-November shows a Pasco County, Florida K-9 take down a carjacking suspect.
Police said they tried to pull the man over, but he sped off.
Eventually, the suspect hit stop sticks, ran, but was quickly taken into custody, NewsNation affiliate WFLA-TV reported.
A somewhat similar situation in Columbus, Ohio. Police arrested a carjacking suspect after a brief chase on Nov. 16.
An Indianapolis woman said a man pointed a gun at her and told her he would shoot if she did not get out of her van and “take off running straight.”
He was eventually captured, NewsNation affiliate WEHT reported.
“The victims obviously are always happy when they get their car back,” said Brendan Deeihan, Chicago Police Chief of Detectives. “But if we can actually hold someone accountable and take them off the street the victims feel better.”
Not long after Katie’s car was taken, there was a strikingly similar armed heist blocks away. A man was arrested and charged in that case and promptly released on a $500 bond.
While Katie has praise for police, she’s frustrated with how the court system handles carjacking cases.
“He got arrested and the same day he was out on bail,” Katie said. “My cellphone cost more than $500. And he has my cellphone, he has my iPad. They took everything from my car. They even took the dog carrier from inside my car!”
To be clear, the man charged in the similar carjacking and released on a $500 bond had no criminal record and has not been charged in Katie’s case.
Detectives are still investigating whether the crimes can be linked.
In Chicago, police report arrests in only 16% of the cases this year. One reason: With everyone wearing masks due to the pandemic, witnesses are having a hard time identifying suspects.
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