By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
Editor’s note: this is an updated version of this article, and was printed in the January 14 issue of the Times.
The Alexandria Police Department announced Wednesday that it made two arrests in relation to the two homicides that were investigated late last year in Beverley Park and Four Mile Run Park and said the incidents were not connected.
Police first announced that a 17-year-old male has been charged in connection with the homicide of Jose Luis Ferman Perez, who was found dead in Beverley Park, commonly known to neighbors as “The Pit,” at the intersection of North Overlook and South Overlook drives on November 9, 2015. The suspect’s identity will not be released due to his status as a juvenile.
Two other suspects in this homicide are in custody; one is a 16-year-old female while another is an adult in another jurisdiction who is awaiting extradition. When he is returned to Alexandria, he will be charged with murder, while the juvenile female will face a lesser charge.
Later on Wednesday, police announced they have charged a suspect in connection with the slaying of Eduardo David Chandias Almendarez, who was found dead in Four Mile Run Park on December 4, 2015. Edwin Alexander Guerreo Umana, 18, of Arlington, is charged with his murder and is being held without bond.
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Police Chief Earl Cook said that all the suspects are affiliated with the notorious MS-13 gang, except the female juvenile charged in the Beverley Park homicide, who he said was an associate of gang members but not a full-fledged member of a gang. Cook added that all those accused in both homicides were undocumented.
“It’s a regional issue, and it’s a regional issue meaning the eastern seaboard, but certainly in our region, the [National Capitol Region],” Cook said. “We have a tremendous problem right now with gang violence, and we’ve seen it increase tremendously, and now it has visited the city of Alexandria, which only says none of us are immune from it.”
Cook said he could not confirm whether the victims were members of a gang, but he did note that the causes of the two men’s deaths were not the same. Nancy Bull, district administrator for the Virginia medical examiner’s office, said last month that the 24-year-old Perez suffered chop and stab wounds to his head and neck.
“Because of what I know now, the [question] of whether he was a gang member is irrelevant,” Cook said. “Right now, he is a human being who has lost his life, a young person who has lost his life. Whether he was not a gang member or was a gang member is irrelevant to the Perez family.”
Cook said the two homicides were not connected, and that while the incidents both involved gang members, the homicides were different: the Beverley Park killing was gang-related, while the Four Mile Run Park incident was gang motivated. Cook explained there is a subtle difference between the two classifications.
“In the city of Alexandria, I know it’s a bit of a fine point. We do our statistics based on gang motivated activity, which is usually a crime associated with the furtherance of the gang’s business or activity,” Cook said. “Gang-related [could mean] someone committed a crime such as shoplifting. They happened to be a gang member, but it isn’t for the furtherance of the gang.”
From neighbors’ point of view, it is pleasing to hear that the police have made arrests and will be now taking the cases to prosecution.
“I’m happy to hear that the police have made progress in their investigation,” said Bruce Johnson, president of the North Ridge Citizens’ Association. “The community was obviously upset and disturbed, and I have a great deal of sympathy for the victim too. I hope that justice, whatever that means, will be done in the matter.”
Especially concerning to residents were the locations of where both bodies were found, given that they were discovered in some of the city’s open public spaces.
“[Beverley Park] is a central point for the neighborhood and is a gathering place for families,” said Vice Mayor Justin Wilson, who lives nearby. “Any time you have anything like that happen anywhere in the neighborhood it’s very concerning, but certainly in a place like this, which is really a sanctuary for families and the community, it’s really scary. It’s certainly a great relief to the whole neighborhood that this has been apparently resolved.”
But many still are troubled by the rise in gang activity, even though it appears to be targeted at specific individuals and not the community at large.
“Crime, and such vicious crime like that, always has the chance of spreading, but it seemed as if the circumstances indicated it was not directed at a neighbor but rather somebody else who had been either murdered there or dropped off there,” Johnson said. “It’s disturbing for the city of Alexandria and so, in the larger sense, that’s a worry. If it’s gang-related, which it seemed to perhaps indicate, it is disturbing. In that sense, it was worrisome, but did we feel like the neighborhood was under siege? No, I don’t think so.”
Cook said the cases will now be prosecuted by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, and thus he could not disclose a possible motive or specific details about what took place. He said officers are continuing to investigate the two unresolved homicides from last year, of Leon Williams, 37, and Shakkan Elliot-Tibbs, 22, who were both killed near the Braddock Road Metro station.