Help! Police plead for community’s help as gun violence spikes in Alexandria

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Help! Police plead for community’s help as gun violence spikes in Alexandria
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By Amy Will | awill@alextimes.com

Alexandria has recently experienced an alarming rise in gun violence and other violent crimes, with many felonies being committed in broad daylight. Murders, carjackings and brazen auto theft have our city’s residents, and leaders, on edge.

“Crime at this level – the amount of crimes being committed with guns. I’ve never seen it at this multitude,” Alexandria Police Chief Don Hayes said candidly in a phone inter- view on Tuesday about the cur- rent climate in the city.

On July 24, 29-year-old father Eric Holmes, Jr. was shot and killed at approximately 11:30 a.m. in the 800 block of West Glebe Road. The incident happened at a playground in the neighborhood, and accord- ing to police, Holmes died after being transported to a hospital, making it the fifth homicide this year.

Dispatch calls available on openMHz.com detail the critical moments during the officers’ pursuit of the suspected gunman, believed to be driving a silver Nissan Rogue with an “Enterprise Car Sales” placard in the rear license plate holder.

At one point, in the openMHz. com recording, an officer indicates the vehicle was possibly heading northbound on 395, but the pursuing officers lost sight of the vehicle.

Hayes confirmed the investigation is ongoing and the department continues to pursue any information that may result in a lead.

A video produced and posted to the City of Alexandria YouTube page following the incident includes messages from Hayes, City Manager Jim Parajon and Mayor Justin Wilson encouraging witnesses to share any information they may have about the case.

“I’ve been doing this job for a long time and we are outraged about the sense- less crime that is taking place in our city,” Hayes said in his video message. Urging people to come forward, he continued, “We are waiting for your call. We cannot do this with- out you.”

Hayes later explained in his interview on Tuesday that the video – which has more than one thousand views and was shared to various social media sites – has delivered some helpful information, noting the importance of outreach across all platforms.

“We want people and these perpetrators to understand we are not set apart from the community,” Hayes said.

Wilson, who shared in the YouTube video that he was “deeply concerned, shocked, frustrated by the violence that is impacting our city and impacting our entire region every day,” explained in a phone interview last week that “there’s definitely a problem,” resound- ing Hayes’ plea for citizens to speak up.

“I think a real challenge for us and I think this is part of what the chief’s message was – is we are not getting a lot of in- formation,” Wilson said in the interview. “Folks are not com- ing forward and telling us what they’ve seen and assisting the police department in their investigation. … I think we’re trying to get that message out. Make sure folks understand that you know the leadership of the city, the leadership of the police department is concerned about this violence.”

A staggering number of the recent crimes are being committed by teenagers.

“Almost exclusively the people who are perpetuating this violence are 14- to 25-year-old males. These are teenage to young adult males who are perpetuating most of this violence around our community and around the region,” Wilson said.

On July 25, the day after the murder of Holmes, Jr., a 14-year-old male was taken into custody after police responded to a 9-1-1 call from an Alexandria resident around 9 a.m. In a release from July 26, APD stated that a woman reported being forcefully removed from her vehicle as it was being stolen. With help from the Metropolitan Police Department, the vehicle was located hours later in the District of Columbia.

Although the suspect was unarmed in that incident, the mayor said the city is lobbying at the federal level for assistance in keeping guns out of the hands of minors.

“We’re going to continue to work with the legislators and the federal side to try to advocate for cutting the tide of the flow of guns into our community,” Wilson said. “You know, these are guns that are bouncing from crime scene to crime scene around the region. These are guns that are flowing from other states that are becoming very accessible. A teenage boy should not be able to get a firearm; but, we’re seeing teenage boys show up at scenes of crimes with firearms and that’s just, that’s unacceptable.”

In a previous Times article from March discussing the Alexandria Police Department’s annual review, it was reported gun violence cases had doubled in the city year-over-year from 2021 to 2022 – from 76 cases to 152.

APD is currently working on a Times request for information on the total number of gun-related crimes in Alexandria this year; those numbers were not available in time for this story.

There have been approximately 11 stolen vehicle cases since the July 25 carjacking – which is just over one week. The crimes, according to the department’s online database, all occurred between the hours of 6:40 a.m. and 2:20 p.m.

Both Hayes and Wilson touched on the challenges Alexandria’s understaffed department faces. In March, APD stated it was “operating at minimal sworn staffing levels,” indicating the department was stretched thin.

In June, however, APD and the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office announced the graduation of 18 police officers and 15 sheriff’s deputies from the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy, making it one of the largest graduating classes the city has had.

Although adding a robust group of new officers to the streets is a step in the right direction, Hayes also emphasized that partnerships with neighboring jurisdictions are essential to solving crimes and arresting perpetrators. Hayes specifically cited the assistance APD received from Metropolitan Police in last Tuesday’s car-jacking arrest.

Wilson also acknowledged the importance of transparency.

“The fact is we can do a better job and we will do a better job of communicating with the public through every medium,” he said.

Wilson added that continuing to engage with youths and giving the police department the resources they need will hopefully lead to change.

Focused on outreach and strengthening the department’s relationship in the community, Hayes wants the city to know safety is top priority and a collaborative effort.

“We need you to help us so that we can help you and help all of us have the community in Alexandria that we are used to,” Hayes said.

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