Our View: Unraveling an arrest at school

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T.C. Williams High School (Courtesy photo)
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The Feb. 13 arrest of T.C. Williams High School student Mohamed Aly on two counts of first-degree murder has shaken not just that school community, but residents throughout Alexandria. That the arrest took place inside T.C. Williams in the middle of a school day has upset students and parents, while prompting a number of important questions.

In the Feb. 20 Alexandria Times, resident and former city council candidate Chris Hubbard wrote a letter, “A message from the T.C. Williams High School principal,” in which he asked what many other parents were surely thinking:

• Why did the arrest take place inside the school building in the middle of a school day?

• Did Alexandria City Public School officials, Virginia State Police, the Richmond office of the FBI and local law enforcement officials knowingly let a double murder suspect into a school filled with around 3,000 students?

The initial communication from T.C. Williams principal Peter Balas also did not inform parents of the murder charges against Aly, only that “a T.C. Williams High School student was arrested today for his alleged involvement in a crime that occurred outside of the City of Alexandria …”

The Times is attempting to shed light on details of the arrest by talking with students, law enforcement officials and Balas. Our story, “An arrest at school,” on page one of this week’s paper, fills in part of the story. Significant gaps in the arrest timeline remain unfilled, however. While disappointing, this is not surprising since the murder investigation is ongoing.

An important piece of the story is that, according to Balas and ACPS Director of Communications Helen Lloyd, law enforcement officials only decided to arrest Aly after questioning him at length after the suspect arrived at T.C. Williams on Feb. 13. That partially clarifies why the arrest took place on school property, though it doesn’t fully explain why public safety and school officials allowed a murder suspect to enter the high school that morning.

We also sympathize with the difficulty ACPS had in communicating that day, as school officials had to balance the right of parents and students to know what was going on with the need to tread carefully so as not to jeopardize an ongoing investigation that they did not control.

One surprising communications element is the silence of ACPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D as this event has unfolded. We would have expected the loquacious leader of the school district to have been front and center in handling such a troubling situation, rather than leaving that job to the school principal.

Finally, we mourn for the two young people, Ntombo Joel Bianda, 21, of Alexandria, and Ayanna Munne Maertens Griffin, 19, of Germantown, Maryland, who lost their lives that fateful day in Halifax County – and for their families. And also for Aly, only 18 years old and yet suspected of committing a horrible crime.

We currently have snippets of the narrative. In time, more will be known. But this, unfortunately, is a story without a happy ending.

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