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City police thankful for community help

Youngstown department optimistic about solving recent homicides

YOUNGSTOWN — Though the recent spike in city homicides is disheartening, Capt. Jason Simon of the Youngstown Police Department said help detectives are getting from the public brings hope that many will be solved.

There have been five homicides since Aug. 29, but the investigations into those cases are “progressing very well,” Simon said. “Obviously I would like to have arrests in all of them, but I think we are making enough progress that in all of the recent ones, we will be having arrests.”

He said the progress in those cases is also “due to community cooperation and support.”

He added: “We have amazing investigators, but we still need help from the public because (investigators) are not on the scenes when (killings) happen. They rely on the public for that information, and the public has been forthcoming and will get a lot of the credit when we make arrests.”

Asked specifically about the Aug. 31 shooting death of Austin Mendenhall, 38, in the 300 block of Ferndale Avenue, Simon said that investigation has been aided by the public. Mendenhall was found shot in the front yard of a home.

“The community has really helped us out and has provided the detective division with a lot of information that is helping lead us to great progress in the case,” he said.

A 7:18 p.m., a ShotSpotter notification alerted police to the shooting, as did 911 calls regarding gunfire, police said at the time. ShotSpotter alerts police to gunfire on the South Side.

Officers saw a chaotic scene when they arrived on Ferndale Avenue and found Mendenhall, police said. Ambulance personnel arrived and determined Mendenhall was dead.

“Within moments of arriving, hundreds of people descended on the block while patrol officers and the police department’s Neighborhood Response Unit were attempting to cordon off the homicide scene,” a news release stated.

The location of the shooting was only about a block away from another incident July 14 in which police officers discovered a crowd of people holding a memorial in the rear of a home and back of a driveway in the 400 block West Judson Avenue. The crowd had two armed men standing watch at the corners of the front yard.

Cars lined the road on both sides and people were on the porches, front yard, devil strip and in the street around two homes close to Hudson Avenue, which also runs past the block of Ferndale Avenue where Mendenhall was killed.

Simon, another Youngstown police officer and several officers from the Mahoning County Juvenile Justice Center saw the situation, leading to a decision to regroup, add officers and return to the neighborhood to investigate.

When they returned in marked and unmarked vehicles, they turned on emergency lights, and many of the people fled through the rear yards toward Ferndale.

An armed man fired a gun at officers. No one was hit, and police scoured the area trying to find the man but were unable to locate him.

Asked whether the investigation into the Mendenhall killing indicated any connection between that case and the July incident on nearby West Judson, Hudson and Ferndale, Simon said no. “It’s not related,” he said, though he also realized quickly upon learning of the Mendenhall killing that it took place very close to the July episode.

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