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Tracking the life of street guns to solve Hartford homicides

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HARTFORD--At least once a month along Cherry Street in Hartford, you’ll see the same group standing in front of a vacant home. They’re all family and friends of a 19-year-old Hartford man who was shot and killed last year.

Ricky Rivera was shot in the head while standing on the porch of that vacant home in October of 2015.

“He had the biggest smile in the world. Oh my goodness,” said Maria Rodriguez, Rivera’s mom.

They return to the spot where Rivera died to remember him and search for answers. “The person that did this to my son is still out there. He’s still breathing. He’s still walking. He’s drinking. He’s eating. He’s sleeping. He gets to see his mom,” said Rodriguez.

Rivera’s death was one of Hartford’s 31 murders in 2015. In 26 of the cases, the victims were found with gunshot wounds and police are still working to solve eight of those homicides, including, Rivera’s.

“We’re not going to stop looking at the case,” said Hartford Police Chief James Rovella.

Rovella says his department is using new software focused on gun violence to find the killers. When a firearm or shell casings are recovered at a crime scene, information on the items are entered into a database. Police will get an alert if the ballistics evidence is linked to multiple cases.

For instance, while FOX 61 crews were in the Hartford Crime Lab, police got an alert about a shooting three days prior. The suspect’s gun was quickly linked to a separate incident in 2014.

However, this connection doesn’t mean the suspect was involved in the shooting two years ago. “This is an example of how a firearm can travel from one individual to another,” said Hartford Police Sgt. John Michael O’Hare.

O’Hare says the firearm is easily passed around, especially after it’s been used for murder. They call it "community gun."

For instance, in 2002, within a six month period, the same 9mm handgun was used by different people in a small gang to carry out two murders and at least eight shootings, terrorizing the city.

“We isolated 1 percent of our city population that is responsible for upwards of 75 percent of our violent crime,” said Rovella.

Police say, if they can get at least one of the gun’s owners in custody, investigators can start tracing the firearm’s transactions on the black market. They do this by gathering intelligence, using surveillance cameras and even social media pages to develop profiles of potential suspects and figure out their network, filling in clues over time.

“We can develop these larger pictures now that we couldn’t have done in the past. We can do it a lot faster,” said O’Hare.