Cook County, Illinois, Home to Chicago, Saw Record 1,002 Gun-Related Homicides in 2021

Illinois' Cook County, which is home to Chicago, saw more gun-related homicides in 2021 than in any other year on record, according to officials. Cook County's 1,002 homicides, a total that includes Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, was 121 higher than the previous record from 2020 and almost twice as many as the total from 2019.

Just two days before the Monday announcement by the county medical examiner's office, Chicago police reported that there were more homicides in Chicago, 797, in 2021 than in any year since 1996. There were 772 killed in 2020, and a much lower total of 498 in the year before, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The vast majority of Cook County's homicides in 2021 were gun-related, with only 85 killings not having a connection to guns. For comparison, all but 105 county deaths in 2020 were related to guns, and all but 87 were related to guns in 2019, according to the medical examiner's data.

The November murder of Shaoxiong "Dennis" Zheng, a recent graduate from the University of Chicago master's program in statistics, highlighted the city's growing problem with violence, the Chicago Sun Times reported. The 24-year-old, who university faculty described as bright, caring and talented in his death announcement, was shot and killed during a robbery in the city's Hyde Park neighborhood.

"The entire university community is heartbroken," University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos said during a November 11 safety webinar.

The killing spurred the university to call on Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the police superintendent to treat violence as a "public health crisis," the Sun Times reported.

Chicago Police
Chicago authorities have reported that there were more homicides in the city, 797, in 2021 than in any year since 1996. Above, police officers attend a Chicago Police Department promotion and graduation ceremony on October 20, 2021, in Chicago. Scott Olson/Getty Images

In both Chicago and the county overall, the vast majority of last year's homicides happened in neighborhoods made up mostly of racial minorities. In Cook County, Black people were the victims of 80 percent of the homicides and Hispanic people were the victims in 14 percent of them.

The pandemic helped make 2021 the second-busiest year ever for the medical examiner's office, with nearly 4,500 COVID-19 deaths contributing to the 12,618 cases it handled.

Only 2020, when vaccines only rolled out in the final weeks of the pandemic's first year, was busier, with the office handling more than 16,000 cases.

Opioids caused at least 1,488 deaths in Cook County last year, though the medical examiner's office said it expects that such drugs also were responsible for an additional 600-700 of its pending cases. If so, that would put the final 2021 opioid death figure at more than 2,000, which would surpass the 1,840 registered in 2020, the office said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Chicago Shootings
Illinois’ Cook County, which is home to Chicago, saw more gun-related homicides in 2021 than in any other year on record, according to officials. Above, police crime scene tape is displayed near the scene of a shooting on April 25, 2016, in Chicago. Joshua Lott/Getty Images