Alexandria’s police department is on quite a roll.
Since the beginning of September the department’s detectives have secured first degree murder indictments in two “cold case” murders: those of Nancy Dunning and Michael James Horton.
Old, unsolved homicides roil communities in many ways. In the case of Horton, his 2009 murder came on the heels of nine others in his Parker-Gray neighborhood in preceding years. That much violence, topped by a long-unsolved case, can leave a community feeling both vulnerable and neglected — as if their safety is not a priority.
Dunning was a much-loved community leader whose death simultaneously left a void and cast a shadow of suspicion over her husband, former Alexandria sheriff Jim Dunning. It was a shadow he never fully escaped before his own death in South Carolina in 2012.
Grand juries indicted Charles Severance on September 11 in Dunning’s murder, and on Tuesday handed down an indictment of Willie Smith in Horton’s slaying. Severance is a former fringe mayoral candidate who also is accused of killing Ronald Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato. Smith currently is incarcerated for an unrelated crime.
Alexandria Chief of Police Earl Cook expounded on how difficult it is to solve old murder cases, saying “We do not have the necessary resources for a full-time cold case unit. Our detectives carry a full case load and they investigate these cold cases in addition to their normal duties because of their commitment to the families of the victims.”
Any cold-case breakthrough is significant, but two in just over a month is extraordinary.
Alexandria police also secured capital murder indictments in September against Severance in the Kirby and Lodato slayings. They also caught Kashif Bashir — after he shot police office Peter Laboy in February 2013 in front of Lyles Crouch Traditional Academy and brought him to trial this month. Despite Bashir’s successful insanity plea, his capture, trial and forced medical treatment means a dangerous man will be off the streets.
We live in a dangerous world, where have to be cautious even in our own neighborhoods. However, knowing that we have a police force that doesn’t stop trying to solve cases five and even 10 years later is a comfort. It means that should the unthinkable ever happen to a family member or friend, they won’t be forgotten.
Cook said he was “extremely proud of the hard work and dedication” that led to the arrest of Smith. We echo his sentiments — and they apply to police work in the deaths of not just Horton, but also Dunning, Kirby and Lodato as well as in the Laboy shooting.
The detectives and officers of the Alexandria Police Department have done us proud.