By Chris Teale and Erich Wagner (Photo/Chris Teale)
The peace and tranquility of the Fourth of July holiday in Alexandria was shaken last Thursday as police investigated the city’s first homicide of the year, just blocks from the Braddock Road Metro station.
Around 11:30 p.m., officers responded to the 700 block of N. Fayette St. after reports of a shooting. When they arrived, police found Shakkan Elliot-Tibbs, 22, of Woodbridge suffering from a gunshot wound.
Elliot-Tibbs was transported to a local hospital, where he later died.
Alexandria Police Department officials moved quickly to hold a community meeting Monday, and the Johnson-Siebert Gymnasium at the Charles Houston Recreation Center quickly filled with a cross-section of concerned Alexandrians, including politicians and a wide range of local residents. The event was originally planned for a smaller multipurpose room at the center, but was moved to the gymnasium as droves of people continued to file in.
After the floor opened up for questions and comments, Elliot-Tibbs’ mother brought the room to absolute silence as she addressed those present. Linda Tibbs, also of Woodbridge, said her son was only in Alexandria because he was on a two-week summer break and was set to return to school on July 13. She urged anyone with any information to alert the police, for the good of their community.
“It’s a shame, because my son was an innocent bystander who is no longer here and is no longer able to fulfill his dreams,” she said. “When you close your eyes to the situation, you are not helping the situation. It’s not helping anybody who lives here. I hope somebody will take heed and feel the need to come forward. Coming forward for me is helping you.”
Tibbs received a standing ovation from attendees, and her comments precipitated a public discussion that saw various members of the community raise concerns about neighborhood policing but noting officers’ strengths as well.
Deputy Police Chief David Huchler led the meeting in the absence of Chief Earl Cook, who Huchler said was traveling and therefore unable to attend. The deputy chief began the meeting by saying that its purpose was to engage the community and encourage witnesses to come forward. He said that while the police had plenty of promising leads, they still needed those nearby to help their investigation.
“We need people to step forward,” Huchler said. “Somebody has that piece of information we need to close this investigation.”
Huchler also made mention of the police department’s increased notification of the public about so-called “shots fired” calls, and added that this was in part due to investigators’ desire to encourage witnesses to come forward and show they are present in the community. He said with around a half dozen people identified for the majority of the “shots fired” calls, the department is making progress, and their presence shows they are available to listen.
“We are here,” he said. “We are here to help you. We are here to protect you.”
Local resident Bethany Case opened up the question-and-answer portion of the evening by asking, “If folks would raise their hand if they have ever heard gunshots in the neighborhood? Can you raise your hand if you’ve ever witnessed a drug deal in the neighborhood? Can you raise your hand if you’ve ever called the police?”
Case’s questions were greeted by a strong show of hands, indicating the level of concern from those present. She then asked where Cook was, and questioned whether there was a leadership problem within the department, given that its senior figure was not present to hear the community’s concerns. Huchler again noted the reason for the chief’s absense and said as a native Alexandrian, Cook was determined to make the city safer and that efforts would
be strengthened by everyone working together.
“I do believe our leadership is strong within the police department,” he said.
The police’s availability of resources also was questioned by several residents, who asked whether the department was truly equipped to deal with the crime committed in the neighborhood, particularly North Old Town. Fernando Torrez, a small business owner and Republican candidate for city council, was especially pointed in his questioning of Huchler.
“It sounds like you don’t have enough resources,” he said, with murmurs of agreement from the audience. “Do you have enough resources?”
Huchler was quick to assure those present that the department is fully capable of doing its job, although he did point out that “more does not necessarily mean better,” as he said they have streamlined the department in recent years in order to deploy more effectively.
“I am confident standing before you to tell you we have the resources to do the job,” Huchler said.
Several audience members mentioned that in turbulent times such as these, the community needs to come together and unite in the face of adversity, something Huchler agreed with, noting that the holding of meetings is a crucial part of getting residents behind the police department and encouraging potential witnesses to come forward.
Those present were led in prayer at the end of the meeting. All held hands across the gymnasium, indicating that they were determined to be united, and to stand together even after the first homicide of the year took place in their neighborhood.
Four homicides were committed in Alexandria in 2014, down from five in 2013. There were no homicides reported in the city in 2012. The investigation is still ongoing, with police saying they have a number of leads but have not made any arrests as of the Times’ print deadline.
Police asked anyone with information about the incident to call Detective Loren King at 703-746-6689, or to call the non-emergency line at 703-746-4444.