Inside the Houston area’s violent year
The Houston area witnessed an onslaught of unimaginable crimes this year.
Through Nov. 16, Houston police have reported 379 homicides this year — 48 less than last year.
Though the tally makes clear in concrete terms the violence Houston experienced in 2022, it doesn’t begin to capture the tragic stories of trauma and loss, the toll it took and still takes on families and communities.
Facts and figures are poor stand-ins for the lives cut short this year — like that of 7-year-old Troy Khoeler, who was found dead inside his adoptive parent’s washing machine after they reported him missing. Or 16-year-old Diamond Alvarez who was shot 22 times while walking her family’s dog Peanut in her southwest Houston neighborhood. Or 49-year-old Michelle Roenz, whose body investigators found in the trunk of the car her teenage son crashed while trying to evade officers.
Here, we take a look back at some of the most heinous Houston-area crimes that have come out of this particular calendar year, the deadly acts of violence too horrendous to comprehend, crimes so shocking they left seasoned investigators speechless.
Many of these cases are making their way through the criminal justice system. In a handful of these cases, the perpetrators were shot and killed by officers, while in others, the suspects remain behind bars — or out on bond — awaiting trial dates and court appearances.
Man accused of bludgeoning father to death with dumbbell
Ryan Mitchell Smith is shown in an arrest photo provided by the Houston Police Department on Jan.27, 2022. Smith has been arrested and charged with murder in the killing of his father. (Houston Police Department)
A Houston man is accused of bludgeoning his father to death with a dumbbell and stabbing a police dog, among other crimes.
In late January, Ryan Mitchell Smith, 26, accumulated a laundry list of charges during an alleged multi-day crime spree which began with an attempted carjacking. After fleeing the scene of the carjacking and allegedly stealing merchandise from a store, police said Smith stabbed a police dog with a butcher knife.
He was arrested on charges of robbery, interference with a police service animal and evading arrest. Family members posted Smith’s bond the following day and he was released from the Harris County Jail. He went home with his father.
Within a day of his release, authorities allege Smith struck his father with a 15-pound dumbbell numerous times, killing him, before hiding his body in the garage of their Carolcrest home. When officers were called to the address for a welfare check, Smith fled in his father’s truck. He was later detained and confessed to the killing, authorities said in an arrest affidavit.
16-year-old Diamond Alvarez shot 22 times
Frank Deleon Jr. is shown in an arrest photo provided by the Houston Police Department on Tuesday, Jan.18, 2022. Deleon has been arrested and charged with murder in the killing of a 16-year-old ex-girlfriend Diamond Alvarez who was shot 22 times as she walked her dog in southwest Houston, police said. (Houston Police Department via AP) (Houston Police Department)
Diamond Alvarez, 16, was fatally shot on Jan. 11, while walking her family’s dog Peanut in her southwest Houston neighborhood. Investigators said her attacker shot her 22 times.
A week later, her ex-boyfriend, 17-year-old Frank Deleon Jr., was arrested and charged with murder in her shooting death.
In court documents, prosecutors said Deleon asked Alvarez to meet him in a field near her home shortly before she was killed. Police said Alvarez had recently learned that Deleon had started a relationship with another girl while they were still dating. Over text, Deleon begged Alvarez not to tell the other girl about the relationship, texting Alvarez “Don’t ruin this for me” multiple times.
A day after he was taken into custody, Deleon posted bond and was released from the Harris County Jail.
“I mean, why? Why is he out? Why is he out?” Diamond’s mother Anna Machado said. “Why is he breathing the air? Why? I don’t think he deserved to breathe the air, look at the light, the sun, the night. I don’t have my daughter with me. Why should they have their son with them?”
Robbery victim fatally shoots 9-year-old Arlene Alvarez
This booking photo provided by the Houston Police Department shows Tony Earls on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. Houston police say Earls, who had been robbed at an ATM on Monday evening, Feb. 14, opened fire in an attempt to stop his attacker but instead shot a 9-year-old girl in a truck driving nearby. The girl later died at a hospital. (Houston Police Department via AP) (Houston Police Department)
In February, a man who had been robbed at gunpoint at an ATM in southeast Houston fired at his attacker, but instead shot a 9-year-old girl in a truck nearby.
The child, Arlene Alvarez, died at a hospital the next day.
The robbery victim, 41-year-old Tony Earls, was charged with aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury in the girl’s shooting death. In July, a grand jury declined to indict him.
The armed robbery suspect, who remains at large, will face felony murder charges in the killing. A $30,000 reward is being offered for information leading to his arrest.
Convict escapes prison bus, kills family of 5, authorities say
This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Gonzalo Lopez. Lopez, a convicted murderer on the run since escaping a prison bus after stabbing its driver on May 12 may be driving the truck linked to the deaths of five people, Texas prison system officials said late Thursday., June 2, 2022 (Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP)
On May 12, a convicted murderer who had killed on behalf of a Mexican drug cartel stabbed the driver of a prison transport bus and fled into the woods in Leon County.
The search for Gonzalo Lopez, 46, ended three weeks later in a shootout hundreds of miles away in Atascosa County, south of San Antonio. He led officers on a brief chase in a stolen truck. The officers disabled the truck with spike strips and exchanged gunfire with Lopez before fatally striking him.
Authorities believe Lopez killed a Centerville man and his four grandchildren while on the lam. They said he stole an AR-15-style rifle and a pistol from the family’s home, as well as the truck he drove to Atascosa County.
Pastor shot to death in road rage incident
Booking photo of Deshawn Longmire, 23, who is is charged with murder (Provided by HPD)
In July, an Uber driver was charged with murder, accused of fatally shooting a Houston pastor.
Authorities allege Deshawn Longmire, 23, shot and killed 58-year-old Rev. Ronald Mouton in an apparent road rage incident along the Gulf Freeway, near East Bethel Missionary Baptist Church where Mouton had served as a pastor since 1990.
Mouton’s family called the incident a “senseless tragedy.”
“We want the man who took his life to understand the seriousness of his crime,” they said in a statement. “He took the life of a husband, a father. Our confidence and hope is in the proficient work the of police. We also hope the work of the entire criminal justice system is done thoroughly and that justice is duly served.”
Longmire is being held in the Harris County Jail on a $500,000 bond.
Ex-NFL player charged in girlfriend’s killing
This photo provided by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office shows Kevin Ware. Ware, a former NFL player was charged with murder Thursday, July 28, 2022 in the killing of his girlfriend, whose remains were found months after she was reported missing last year. (Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office via AP) (Montgomery County Sheriff's Office)
A former NFL player was charged with murder in the killing of his girlfriend, whose remains were found months after she was reported missing.
Kevin Ware, 41, is also charged with tampering with evidence, specifically a corpse, in the death of Taylor Pomaski, 29.
Pomaski was last seen in April 2021 at a party at her home in Spring. Her remains were found in December 2021.
Investigators allege Ware cut Pomaski with a knife, struck her with a blunt object and strangled her before burning her body. If convicted of murder, he faces up to life in prison.
Ware played tight end in 2003 and 2004 for Washington and San Francisco.
Gunman sets fire to boarding house, fatally shoots fleeing residents
In August, an angry tenant set a residential building on fire and shot at residents trying to escape before he was killed by a police officer.
Just after 1 a.m. on Aug. 28, Houston police and fire departments received calls about a fire and shooting at a boarding house at 8020 Dunlap Street. Firefighters arrived first but had to take cover when the gunman opened fire. It was not clear if he was firing at them.
Soon after, police officers arrived and located the shooter in a parking lot across the street from the house. An officer shot and killed the gunman, who was dressed in black and armed with a shotgun, authorities said.
Two residents were pronounced dead at the scene, and a third died at a hospital.
Police identified Roy Cravin, 54, as the suspect. They said Cravin had recently been informed he would be evicted from the boarding house.
“I’ve seen things that I haven’t seen before in 32 years,” Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said. “And it’s happened time and time again, and people ask the police chief and police leaders, ‘Why?’ And we don’t even know right now. We just ask that the community come together.”
Mother allegedly confesses she killed her “evil child”
Melissa White Towne (Mug shot courtesy of HCSO)
A woman in Tomball, Texas, was charged with capital murder after she confessed she killed her 5-year-old daughter.
Authorities allege Melissa Towne, 37, took her daughter Nichole to a wooded area of Spring Creek Park in Tomball, made her get on her knees and slit her throat with a knife. When the girl screamed “I’ve been good,” Towne told her to “stop fighting it,” placed a plastic bag over her head and strangled her for 30 to 45 minutes, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Towne “stated she wanted to end (her daughter’s) life because she was an evil child and did not want to deal with her anymore,” according to the affidavit.
Authorities allege Towne then took her daughter’s body to a hospital in Tomball, where hospital staff found the girl partially wrapped in plastic and mesh bags in Towne’s Jeep Cherokee.
Towne’s court-appointed attorney said she has been institutionalized at least nine times due to mental illness. She is being held at the Harris County Jail on a $15 million bond.
Twin teens who escaped Cypress home were severely beaten, starved, authorities say
This combo of images provided by the Harris County Sheriff’s Department shows, from left, Zaikiya Duncan, 40, left, and Jova Terrell, 27, who were arrested in Louisiana this week hours after a teenager told Texas police that he and his twin sister were handcuffed and endured horrific abuse escaped their family’s home after he found a handcuff key and hid it in his mouth, authorities said in court records. (Harris County Sheriff’s Office via AP) (Harris County Sheriff's Office)
A Cypress woman, Zaikiya Duncan, 40, and her live-in boyfriend Jova Terrell, 27, were arrested in October after her twin teenagers told authorities they were handcuffed and endured horrific abuse in the family home before escaping.
Ring surveillance video shows the 16-year-old siblings barefoot, partially clothed and holding handcuffs, knocking on their neighbor’s door and pleading for help. The brother and sister were covered in bruises and had lacerations on their wrists.
“She kept shaking and she was like, ‘my mom has kept us locked up in the laundry room,’” said the neighbor who opened her home to the children.
The teens were severely malnourished and told law enforcement that the abuse had been occurring for months, according to an affidavit. They told authorities that Duncan handcuffed them, poured bleach on them, forced them to drink household cleaners when they “talked too much,” and would beat them with extension cords, curtain rods and metal poles, among other atrocities, the affidavit said.
The twins seized the opportunity to get away when the twin boy found the handcuff key in his mother’s purse. He told investigators that he hid the key in his mouth until Duncan went to sleep. Once the house was quiet, he and his sister unshackled themselves and made their escape, bringing an end to that phase of their long ordeal.
Duncan’s seven children, including the twins, are now in the custody of child welfare officials, authorities said. She is being held at the Harris County Jail on a $4 million bond.
Mother’s body found in trunk of son’s car
Michelle Roenz and Tyler Roenz were last seen on Thursday (KSAT)
In late October, an Humble teen was charged with killing his mother, whose body was found in the trunk of a car he crashed during a police chase in southern Nebraska.
Tyler Roenz, 17, faces murder and tampering with evidence charges in the death and disappearance of his mother, 49-year-old Michelle Roenz.
The teen’s father reported the pair missing from their family home in Harris County on Oct. 13. He told authorities he found several teeth and a trail of blood inside the house and could not get ahold of his wife or son. A vehicle was also missing.
Investigators issued a rescue alert for both Michelle and Tyler. The following day Michelle’s body was found in the trunk of car that her son crashed while attempting to evade Nebraska state troopers.
Investigators said Michelle died from strangulation and blunt force trauma.
Takeoff, of rap trio Migos, shot dead in downtown Houston
HOUSTON, TEXAS – NOVEMBER 02: A general view of a memorial for rapper Takeoff is seen at 810 Billiards & Bowling on November 02, 2022 in Houston, Texas. Takeoff of Migos was fatally shot at the bowling alley in the early hours of November 1, 2022. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images) (2022 Getty Images)
The rapper known as Takeoff, one-third of the chart-topping rap group Migos, was shot and killed Nov. 1, outside a bowling alley in downtown Houston. He was 28.
Houston police said the shooting occurred after a private party had ended at 810 Billiards & Bowling. As a large group of about 40 people gathered near the entrance, an argument occurred and shots were fired from at least two weapons.
No suspects have been arrested. Houston Police Chief Troy Finner requested any witnesses who fled the scene come forward with additional information.
“Sometimes the hip-hop community gets a bad name,” Chief Finner said at a news conference. “I’m calling up on everybody — our hip-hop artists in Houston and around the nation — we’ve got to police ourselves. There are so many talented individuals, men and women, in that community, who again I love and I respect, and we all need to stand together and make sure no one tears down that industry.”
Spring couple arrested after missing 7-year-old boy found dead in washing machine
Jemaine Thomas, 42, has been charged with capital murder and Tiffany Thomas, 35, has been charged with injury to a child by omission. Both were arrested and placed in the Harris County Jail. (KPRC 2)
A Spring man and his wife were arrested after their 7-year-old son was found dead inside their washing machine.
Jemaine Thomas, 42, was charged with capital murder following the July 28 death of Troy Khoeler. His wife, Tiffany Thomas, 35, was charged with injury to a child by omission.
The couple adopted Troy in 2019. They reported him missing from the family home around 5:20 a.m. on July 28. Deputy constables searched the home and surrounding area for over an hour. Drones and canine units were called to the site. Around 7:10 a.m., deputies returned to the home and conducted another search. While inspecting the garage and utility room, they found Troy dead in a top-loading washing machine.
The parents were initially detained, but charges were not filed until Nov. 15.
Troy had bruises and scars all over his body, along with facial injuries. A medical examiner determined Troy died from asphyxiation and possible drowning.
During the course of the investigation, detectives learned of two prior CPS investigations initiated by school personnel who had observed suspicious injuries on the 7-year-old. The investigations, both in 2022, were related to physical abuse, which included blackened eyes and facial bruising.
Text messages the Thomas couple exchanged in the weeks before Troy’s death “expressed deep contempt” for the boy, authorities said in arrest warrant. In one such text message, Tiffany Thomas wrote that Troy admitted he ate her oatmeal crème pies after she “threatened to put him in the stove and turn it on.” In another, Jemaine Thomas, when he learned Troy had eaten his donut sticks, wrote “I need to get the (locks). I’m going to end up kill him. You going to come home and he going to be hang from the (expletive) tree outside.”
KPRC 2 is watching these cases closely and will provide you with updates as they make their way though the criminal justice system.