Only seven days into 2018, our area had its first murder of the year – a dark milestone we annually hope never comes - when the body of 30-year-old Joshua Ray Tillery of Marshall was found in an abandoned home in Harrison County.
It is a disturbing thing to have a murder occur so early into the new year, as if it serves as an unwelcome preview of things to come. But recent years have reminded us that our crime statistics are beginning to dwindle. Though the Marshall Police Department has yet to release the crime statistics of 2017, previous years' statistics have shown a continued decline in crime; in 2014 crime went down 20 percent, in 2015 crime went down 3 percent, and in 2016 crime went down a reported 5 percent.
The Marshall area had only one homicide in 2017, occurring in March. This is a dramatic reduction when compared to the three murders reported in both 2015 and 2016.
Despite these more comforting statistics, on Monday, less than 24 hours after Tillery's body was found, Harrison County Sheriff Tom McCool told the Harrison County Commissioners Court Monday that in his eyes crime was on the rise. He stated that in his tenure as sheriff, from 2001 to 2017, he has witnessed assault, burglary and intoxicated offense rise 100 percent, weapons-related offenses rise 200 percent and perhaps most disturbingly, homicide rise 300 percent.
McCool then shifted the finger of blame of a 17-year crime wave squarely to narcotics, dubbing it the "leading factor" of crime in Harrison County, both within the state and nationally.
Serving as an exclamation point to McCool's statement, it was revealed that Tillery was arrested on Oct. 30 in Panola County with 1,614 Ecstasy pills, 1.12 pounds of cocaine and 24 bottles of prescription strength cough syrup containing codeine.
The picture painted by these statistics is a grim one. But here are a few more statistics: Harrison County boasts a population of 65,000, and its county seat of Marshall has 23,000 residents. Both dwarf the violent crimes and miscellaneous crimes reported in the past several years. Marshall and Harrison County have proven over the years that they are both more than crime, and more than statistics, by those who volunteer in our community and report suspicious activity as it arises.
It is our hope that in 2018, we prove it again.