BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — It’s well known by now that 2020 was a record year for homicides in Kern County. Anyone who needed to see the aftermath of that violence only had to drive by the Justice Center in Downtown Bakersfield.
Marking Victims’ Rights Week, an annual tradition started in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan, families and friends of homicide victims typically gather at the court house Liberty Ball before marching for justice. But because of the pandemic, the District Attorney’s Office organized a smaller gathering, with photos of victims lining Truxtun Avenue, enough to stretch from L to N streets.
“We had to something, because 2020 was our deadliest year on record,” said District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer. “And there are so many victims, it took up a whole city block, and that’s not even all of them.”
After 2019 saw Kern County’s first drop in homicides in 5 years, 2020 shattered the record with 126 criminal homicides, according to the District Attorney’s Office. KGET’s Homicide Tracker count, which includes homicides that were considered justified, currently stands at 140 for 2020. As of now, KGET has counted 36 homicides for 2021, with several pending investigations.
“We hope that 2021 won’t see as many victims as 2020,” said Zimmer, “We know that the pandemic has played a very negative role in public safety, hopefully when kids get back to school they’ll be very preoccupied, they won’t turn to gangs and hang out with gangs, because a majority of these killings are gang-related.”
Zimmer also suggested part of why homicides saw a drop in 2019 was because of the work done to keep kids safe from gangs, something that the pandemic disrupted with the social restrictions created to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“We need kids back in school, we need community groups engaged with kids,” said Zimmer, “This is unacceptable, the level of violence we have in Kern County. This is a phenomenal community and this violence has to stop.”
There are many parents, like Dollie Hidalgo, who are waiting for answers. Her son, Luis Arellanes, was killed in a shooting on 2nd and Eye Streets, about 2 miles away from where the memorial was set up.
“It’s hard because he was always the one by my side,” Hidalgo said through tears, standing near his poster. “He never left my sight.”
All she remembers is that he ran off from home suddenly last August, and she found out what happened from investigators who broke the news to her. No suspects have been announced in the case. Zimmer said families still waiting can’t give up hope for a resolution.
“We will never stop working on their case,” said Zimmer, “Technological developments occur all the time…we’ve been able to break cold cases with DNA.”
And she also pleads with people to share what they know, while staying anonymous, with the Kern Secret Witness, with its tipline (661) 322-4040.