YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – As the city heads into the last six months of the year, it has seen a dramatic drop in the average age of its homicide victims.

So far this year, the average age of a homicide victim is 26.6 years old, according to data supplied by the Youngstown Police Department and the Mahoning County Coroner’s Office. Youngstown is up to 15 homicides this year.

From 2016 to 2020, the average age of the victims was 32.3 years old. The city saw 122 homicides during that five-year time period.

Chief of Detectives Capt. Rod Foley acknowledged the age has been decreasing lately, but he also said the year is not yet over so there’s a chance the figures won’t stay the same.

Of the 15 homicide victims so far this year, eight of them were under 25 and five of them were under 20.

Of the city’s last eight homicides, seven of the victims were under 23 and three of them were under 20.

For 2021, the city has seen 63 people shot, including the 15 homicide victims. At this time last year, 44 people had been shot, including 15 of 16 homicide victims.

In 2020, 98 people were shot in Youngstown, including 27 of 28 homicide victims — an increase of 40 shooting victims from 2019, when 59 people were shot.

Foley said the main thing he’s seeing is more and more younger people carrying guns. He said because they’re so young, they have a tendency to not think before they shoot.

“It seems a lot more young kids are carrying firearms around,” Foley said. “We arrest a lot of them with firearms and at that maturity level, they’re clipping away with them.”

Of 87 people arrested on gun charges so far this year, 22 are under the age of 21.

In the last two weeks, prosecutors have asked for bonds for three of those people who were arrested on gun charges, saying they are suspects in recent revenge shootings in the city.

In the past, the drug trade fueled most of the city’s violence. Foley said that is not the case this year.

Instead, feuds involving groups of younger people who carry guns have been responsible for most of the violence up to this point.

Foley said people involved in the drug trade tend to be older and are more calculating. They are not as apt to resort to violence and when they do, it’s typically aimed at a specific target.

“Younger kids will go down the street with guns and spray more houses [with gunfire] and they’re more indiscriminate,” Foley said.

Randy Nuby, who headed up the Respect Basketball League that was formed recently to give kids something positive to do, said keeping young people busy is one of the keys to keeping them out of trouble.

He heard a frequent complaint from young people who signed up to play in the league this past spring.

“They basically complain about nothing to do,” Nuby said.

He said having things around like a basketball league or community center for young people gives them positive things to do and places to go. It puts them around like-minded people who are also likely to stay out of trouble.

Malik Mostella, a city police officer who acts as a community liaison, has said he is working on other recreational opportunities in the city for young people.

Nuby said plans are in the works for a sort of summit with members of the league, who will meet and tell the organizers what kind of things are worrying them and what adults can do to help.

“They can tell us how we can help them,” Nuby said. “They’re going to run the city someday, so this is what we need.”

Nuby said he especially wants to reach out to people who are in danger of committing violence or becoming victims of violence to get them involved in something positive.

At a summit earlier this year, some of the players in the league said people they know carry guns because so many other people are carrying guns. They think they need to carry in order to be safe.

Foley said that is a common refrain when investigators question a young person who is arrested for a gun crime.

“For some reason, they feel so insecure that they have to carry everywhere they go,” Foley said. “Every time we speak to them, they said they need [a gun] for protection.”