(MINNEAPOLIS) -- Within hours on Dec. 3, three people were killed in two separate shootings in Minneapolis as police continued to investigate a Saturday shooting death.
Authorities had not released any of the victims' identities Sunday night and had not made any arrests. But two of the deaths - a double shooting inside a north Minneapolis home - appear to be the result of a murder-suicide, according to family members.
The spate of killings - and a slew of shootings - comes at a time when the Minneapolis homicide unit is down two permanent investigators, from 20 to 18, is no longer staffed in the early morning and now must go to the scene of every serious assault.
"I'm trying to figure out who to give my next homicide," Minneapolis homicide Lt. Dan Grout said Sunday.
Privately, investigators grumble that the changes have made it difficult to do their jobs and in part, may be responsible for the number of cases that remain unsolved.
The unit has "cleared" less than half of this year's 50 homicides. Minneapolis considers a case cleared when a suspect is arrested and charged. In 1999, the national clearance rate was 69 percent, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which uses a slightly different threshold.
Capt. Rick Stanek, who oversees the homicide, gang and narcotics units, said there is no way to control or predict a weekend like the one past, where four people died of gunshot wounds and numerous others were injured during gunplay.
"All four were in the middle of the night - the [double killing] we now think was a murder-suicide - but the other two involved drugs, alcohol and guns; and numerous people were around," he said. "It's a bad mixture."
Cases that are especially difficult to solve, he said, are drug- and gang-related killings in which witnesses and victims are reluctant to come forward. Or investigators may have identified a suspect in a killing, but don't have enough evidence to arrest that person or seek charges.
Grout agreed: "There are a lot of variables that go into that. We are real close on [closing] a few. There can be a change in that statistic in one day's time."
Investigators are awaiting autopsy results before closing the case of Ying Lee, 47. Lee's wife, Shoua Thao, who was in her 20s, was shot and killed about 3:30 a.m. Sunday in the kitchen of their home in the 3000 block of Newton Av. N.
Lee's nine children from a previous marriage and the couple's four younger children were home at the time of the shooting in Minneapolis' Jordan neighborhood. One of the children called Lee and several other extended relatives after calling 911, a cousin, Lang Lee, said. The children range from 20 to 4 years old.
Lee said his cousin, a Hmong corporal who fought in the Vietnam War for the United States, was an avid hunter who owned a .22-caliber rifle and a shotgun. Investigators would not discuss the weapons used in the shootings or if they recovered them.
Across the city and three hours earlier, Donna O'Neal was awakened by four gunshots outside her home in the 5700 block of 33rd Av. S. in Minneapolis' Wenonah neighborhood.
She looked outside about 12:30 a.m. and asked neighbor Becky Skinaway what was going on. Skinaway said her boyfriend had been shot.
The man, whose identity was not released Sunday, died from his injuries. Grout said investigators "do have some ideas of what it was about," but he declined to release those details.
Minneapolis investigators also spent Sunday following up work they began a day earlier when a man in his 20s was shot outside a duplex in the 2400 block of 16th Av. S. in the Phillips neighborhood.
By 4 a.m. Saturday, eight homicide investigators had been called in to work overtime interviewing 16 witnesses to that killing.
"It gets to be very expensive," Stanek said.
Most of the homicides from 1998 through Sunday occurred between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m., Stanek said. But since the beginning of the year, Minneapolis' homicide unit is no longer staffed 24 hours a day. During the week, there is no one in the homicide unit from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. Also, no investigators are working in the homicide office from 3 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Stanek, who advocates around-the-clock staffing in homicide, said it was "important from my perspective because in the last two or three we've had crime scene [investigators] waiting 45 minutes. And if it's raining or snowing out, we could lose evidence and we also don't want our crime scene tampered with."
Stanek said he has twice met with the deputy police chief about his concerns and will again.
Minneapolis shootings swamp cops; Three deaths within hours press understaffed unit Chris Graves; Staff Writer December 4, 2000, Monday, Metro Edition Copyright 2000 Star Tribune Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) December 4, 2000, Monday, Metro Edition Terms and Conditions Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.