Homicides, suicides, and deaths in the homeless population all increased last year in El Paso County

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The El Paso County Judicial Complex in Colorado Springs.

An annual report from the El Paso County Coroner's Office shed light on the increasing number of homicides in the county last year, including the circumstances surrounding the deaths. 

Of the 78 homicides in El Paso County in 2022, nearly 70 percent were gun-related. The report says more than one-third of the deaths stemmed from some kind of "altercation",  followed in prevalence by domestic and family violence. Five of the county's homicides took place during the Nov. 19 mass shooting at Club Q. There was one reported gang-related homicide in the county last year.

A majority of the 121 deaths in the county's homeless population were accidental, mostly from drug intoxication which includes overdoses, suicide and other related causes (59 percent), involving white males. The report says homeless deaths increased by more than half, up to 121 from 78 in 2021, largely due to the rising number of homicides (11) and fentanyl-related overdoses (35).

Suicide deaths across age groups went up 10 percent last year in the county, according to the report, with 194 total compared to 176 in 2021. Prevention advocates say that shows a need for increased outreach with the military population, men in the community, and better education on firearm storage. 

In a press release, Cassandra Walton, executive director of the Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership, called on community members and leaders to take action.

“We believe a good starting point is for employers to get on board with standardized suicide prevention policies and procedures,” she said.

 If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please contact the Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 

Four young people took their own lives in El Paso County during each of the last two years. That’s down from the startling number of 15 youth suicides in 2020. There was also a 5 percent reduction in deaths by suicide among those with known active or prior military duty.

Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region have historically had serious challenges with suicide. From 2015 to 2020, El Paso County recorded more total deaths by suicide than other counties in Colorado, according to the Suicide Prevention Collaborative of El Paso County.

As was the case with homicide deaths, the coroner's office says firearms played a role in a majority of the suicides last year. The most common risk factors identified in the report include relationship issues, financial struggles, substance abuse, chronic health problems, grief, and legal issues. More than half of suicide deaths involved a person with a reported history of prior suicidal thoughts.

  • If you know someone who has recently ended a relationship, has had financial challenges, experiences substance use disorder, or is navigating loss and grief, take a moment to text or call to check in or invite them to do something with you.
  • Safely store firearms at home. Free firearm safes can be accessed through the Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership and many local emergency rooms. If a family member is in crisis, learn where to store your firearm voluntarily and temporarily outside your home by visiting the Colorado Firearm Safety Coalition. 
  • Organize suicide prevention training for your group, business, or organization. Information can be found here: Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention
  • For more information and resources on how to prevent suicide, visit the Suicide Prevention Collaborative of El Paso County. 

Other key points from the report:
  • Cardiovascular disease was the most common cause of natural death found during autopsies last year, followed by chronic alcohol use
  • COVID-19 was a contributing factor in 20 deaths, down 63 percent from 2021 with a majority of COVID-related deaths occurring in the early months of 2022
  • Motor-vehicle-related fatalities increased by 33 percent (77 in 2022; 58 in 2021)
  • Motorcycle fatalities went up 56 percent (28 in 2022;19 in 2021)
  • Accidental, drug-related deaths (216) went down by 5 percent, with methamphetamine being the most common cause, followed by methamphetamine combined with fentanyl
  • Total fentanyl deaths increased 16 percent, ending a trend of doubling rates seen in the past five years

The El Paso County coroner’s office investigates all sudden, unexpected, and non-natural deaths. The report says the annual cost to each citizen of the county is $4.46. The office also performs autopsies for 22 surrounding counties, for a fee. In 2022, the coroner performed 1,464 autopsies.

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