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Top ALXnow stories of 2021

Rather than an end-of-week wrap-up like we usually do, we at ALXnow figured it might be more fitting to do a look back at all the stories from the last year — our second full year of publication.

Thanks for reading and see you next year!

10. JUST IN: Banana Republic and Gap Outlet closing in Old Town on January 24

Earlier this month, national retailers Banana Republic and Gap Outlet announced they’d be closing for good on Jan. 24, 2022. Douglas Development purchased the buildings and now owns three of the four buildings at the intersection of Washington and King streets. As one commenter noted, according to Monopoly rules, they’re one building short of being able to put a hotel on the site.

9. JUST IN: T.C. Williams JV football team walks off field after alleged racial slur, spitting incident

Alexandria and Fairfax County school districts investigated allegations that members of the James W Robinson, Jr. Secondary School’s junior varsity football team spat at Alexandria players and said racial slurs at a game on April 5. Fairfax County Public Schools had a “stand-down” meeting with the sports team after to address the behavior.

8. Captain Sean Casey wins Democratic primary and is running unopposed for Sheriff in November

Alexandria Sheriff’s Deputy Sean Casey won the Democratic primary in June and was unopposed as he sailed into a election win in November. He will be replacing Dana Lawhorne, who is retiring after four consecutive terms as Sheriff.

7. Torpedo Factory plans could include cafe, maker-space, and ‘gloryholes’

In October, Diane Ruggiero, deputy director of recreation, parks and cultural activities, outlined plans for potential new additions to the Torpedo Factory, like a ground-floor cafe or humorously named glassblowing devices. The discussion was the start of the latest round in a long-running back-and-forth between the city and artists over what the future of the arts center should look like.

6. Go-go music star-turned Alexandria teacher ‘Sugar Bear’ in the spotlight after Oscars shoutout

Alexandria City High School teacher Gregory Elliott has a second-life as local go-go star Sugar Bear for the D.C. band Experience Unlimited. That second life was thrust into the limelight earlier this year when his song “Da’ Butt” from the Spike Lee film School Daze was featured at the Oscars. The band also put out a new album called Free Yourself. It’s pretty good.

5. UPDATED: Police responding to barricade situation near Alexandria City High School

A barricade situation near Woods Place and Quaker Lane, a few blocks from Alexandria City High School, started a little after noon on Nov. 23. Almost 24 hours and a few shots-fired at police later, the situation was resolved peacefully and the suspect was arrested. John Thomas Bey, a 52-year old resident of Alexandria, was been hit with several charges connected to his alleged role in a barricade situation — including unlawful discharge of a firearm in a school zone, attempted felonious assault, and malicious shooting into an occupied police vehicle.

4. UPDATED: Body found floating near Old Town pier

The body of what appears to be a woman was recovered from the Potomac River in late November. Foul play was not suspected.

3. BREAKING: Video shows brawl at Alexandria City High School cafeteria just two days after school starts

Just after school started in August, there were a series of brawls in some of the schools, including one at Alexandria City High School. Police weren’t dispatched to this fight, but were called in for three other incidents. A month later, a juvenile was shot at a McDonalds near Alexandria City High School, a popular post-school hang-out spot. The arguments over violence in schools culminated with the City Council returning school resource officers to Alexandria schools — though earlier this month those same SROs were removed pending an investigation into allegations of sexually inappropriate conversations with a former student.

2. BREAKING: Alexandria Police investigate drug distribution and possession at Episcopal High School

In just two days, a report about an investigation into drug distribution and possession at Episcopal High School became the second most-read story from the last year. Two students were “immediately withdrawn” after packages containing a cornucopia of illegal drugs were found in the private school’s mail room.

1. JUST IN: Rarity as American Viper Rattlesnake found in Old Town

The top story from 2021, at more than double the next closest story, was a rattlesnake found in Old Town. A venomous timber rattlesnake was picked up in Old Town by the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria in June. The animal was found at 400 block of Gibbon Street and the snake was safely removed from the scene and transported to a wildlife center in Northern Virginia.

Courtesy AWLA/Twitter

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Days after both school resource officers at Alexandria City High School were put on administrative leave, the Alexandria Police Department and Alexandria City Public Schools system are still unclear as to if or when those officers will be replaced.

The officers were placed on leave last Thursday after a “serious complaint” from a former student alleging “sexually inappropriate conversations” while she attended ACHS, according to the Washington Post.

SROs have been controversial over the last year, as they were defunded by City Council earlier this year, and then brought back in October after outcry from the school system after a number of incidents with weapons in schools.

SROs are police officers with sidearms who receive 40 hours of specialized training with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Service’s Center for School Safety. They work alongside unarmed security personnel, and are trained in deescalation, seizure and arrests on school grounds, operating during active shooting incidents and working alongside kids with emotional and behavioral issues.

Police say that the memorandum of understanding between the police and schools remains in place, but would not say if or when the officers at the high school will be replaced.

“This question could be misleading,” APD public information officer Marcel Bassett told ALXnow. “We do have other officers in the Department, but again wouldn’t get into further speculation of ‘what if’ or even mentioning replacement until we understand the resolution of the investigation.”

The school system, which would not comment on the matter, is now on winter break until Jan. 3.

“We are looking at and evaluating every possibility to keep our students safe,” Bassett said. “This does depend on the results of the investigation. In the meantime we are working closely with ACPS to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff of all ACPS.”

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Well, it hasn’t exactly been a good news-heavy week in Alexandria.

There’s a possible serial killer in the area of Fairfax just south of Alexandria and the much-debated School Resource Officers have been removed from their posts pending an investigation into alleged inappropriate sexual messages to a former student, according to the Washington Post. A local juvenile was also killed in a fatal shooting this past weekend, though police said there’s no threat to public safety and the death is being considered an isolated incident.

Several City Council members were honored earlier this week after they finished their last City Council meeting. Among them was City Council member Redella “Del” Pepper, who retired after 36 years in office.

Top stories

  1. BREAKING: Alexandria City High School on lockdown after social media threats
  2. JUST IN: Pedestrian struck by car in Arlandria
  3. JUST IN: Minnie Howard campus evacuated after bomb threat
  4. BREAKING: School Resource Officers removed from Alexandria City High School after ‘serious complaint’
  5. Police investigating fatal juvenile shooting
  6. Police investigating shots fired in Braddock neighborhood
  7. Florence King, City Council candidate and Alexandria Living Legend, dies
  8. Alexandria got nearly $30 million in ARPA funding this year; here’s what the city’s been doing with it
  9. The Alexandria detention center population has been declining since 2011, here’s why
  10. Alexandria sees most single-day COVID-19 infections since February, Virginia surpasses 1 million cases
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Morning Notes

SROs in hot water over alleged inappropriate sexual messages — “The investigation stems from a recent report by a former student about alleged sexually inappropriate conversations that occurred during her time at the school, according to two people familiar with the inquiry but not authorized to speak about it on the record.” [Washington Post]

Holiday theft down in the city — “According to data collected by the Alexandria Police Department, a total of 56 shoplifting and concealment incidents have been reported for November and December, with a few weeks still left in December. This marks a decrease from 2020, which had 93 cases over the same two months, and 2019, during which 111 cases occurred over the same two months.” [Alexandria Times]

Afghan siblings, wounded in Kabul airport bombing, seek new life in Northern Virginia — “Mina, 8, and her brother Faisal, 13, navigated a tricky route to arrive in Alexandria. Now they must build a new life, while mourning the one they left behind.” [Washington Post]

Over 50 years of an iconic music venue in Alexandria — “Birchmere tell-all book by local writers published in November.” [Alexandria Gazette]

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Updated 1:15 p.m. — ACHS King Street Campus has returned to normal operating status and Alexandria Police have finished their sweep of the Minnie Howard campus.

The Alexandria Police Department is sweeping through the Alexandria City High School Minnie Howard campus after a bomb threat to the school.

The school is being evacuated while the Alexandria Police Department searches the building. ACPS said Minnie Howad students will be released early. Fourteen buses are en-route on the campus to pick up students on Braddock Road. Some parents are being asked to park at the nearby shopping center and walk to the school to avoid crowding.

Both schools were on lockdown earlier today after threats, and Alexandria City High School’s King Street campus remains on “secure the building” status. ACPS said this means the school day is operating on normal status inside the building, but no one is allowed to enter or leave the school campus.

Image via Google Maps

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Update at 12:20 p.m. — The Minnie Howard campus is being evacuated as police investigate a bomb threat against the school.

Both Alexandria City High School’s main campus and the Minnie Howard campus are on lockdown after threats made on social media.

According to Alexandria City Public Schools:

Alexandria City Public Schools received a report this morning about a threat posted on social media that included the acronym ACHS. We are working with the Alexandria Police Department to investigate the threat report, and the ACHS King Street and Minnie Howard campuses are currently on “secure the building” status. This means that the school day operates on normal status inside the building, but no one is allowed to enter or leave either school campus while the buildings remain secured. Updates will be shared as more information becomes available.

This follows an incident on Tuesday where potential threats on social media were investigated but determined to be not credible. The school was also locked down after an anonymous threat in October.

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Morning Notes

ACHS basketball coach resigns — “Alexandria City varsity boys’ basketball coach Darryl Prue said he resigned from his position Thursday morning following an in-game incident Tuesday night in which he went into the crowd to confront heckling fans at Wakefield High in Arlington.” [Washington Post]

French bakery ‘Fresh Baguette’ crossing the river into Old Town Alexandria — “Fresh Baguette bakery will be opening its fourth location — and first in Alexandria — at 1101 King St. in early 2022. The French bakery has stores in Bethesda, Rockville and Georgetown.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

City hires labor relations staff — “The city announced the appointment of two labor relations positions, Chief Labor Relations Officer Kevin Stokes and Labor Relations Administrator Sean Rogers, to oversee implementation of Alexandria’s collective bargaining ordinance, according to a news release.” [Alexandria Times]

Beeliner Diner opening in Bradlee Shopping Center — “The owners of Bread & Water Company are bringing their pastry skills to burgers, pizza, and fried chicken, besides an oversized pastry bar.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

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Earlier this month, Alexandria City High School senior Abdelraman Aboud Abdelsadig received life-changing news. After submitting all his paperwork and waiting a month, Abdelsadi was awarded the competitive QuestBridge Scholarship to attend Colby College in Maine.

The scholarship is worth about $300,000, and Abdelsadig found out about the award at school on Dec. 1.

The 18-year-old was born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Sudan, and he and his mother and three siblings moved to Alexandria when he was in the first grade, where he attended Douglas MacArthur Elementary School.

“I’ve always been one to keep myself busy,” Abdelsadig told ALXnow. “I always like filling my time up with either an activity or a club or study time, but if I’m bored, like in middle school, I would just stay after school to have conversations with my teachers for like an extra hour. Or even in high school. I started joining a lot of clubs just to fill up my time.”

It was that same restlessness that turned Abdesadig onto QuestBridge. Tired of sticking around at home over the past year, he decided to get a job at Duck Donuts. It was through his coworkers that he found out about the scholarship.

Eglal Salih said she was ecstatic to get the news from her son.

“Oh my god, I was so happy,” she said. “I was so proud of him. He’s always been a good kid.”

Abdelsadig says he’ll be going in the sciences, but hasn’t made up his mind about the specifics. For the time being, he says, he is focused on human anatomy.

In his scholarship essay, he wrote about the digital divide between cultures, and how his background of living in a third world country created a thirst for knowledge.

“Basically, I gave a small insight into my history and how I was not from here, and how I didn’t always have access to large swaths of knowledge, like the internet or Google or anything like that,” he said. “When you don’t have something and you’re curious about certain topics, when those things become available to you, you can’t get enough of it. You just continuously want more and more and more. And that’s exactly how it was with anatomy, just learning in general. I was a giant sponge.”

Abdelsadig plans to first visit Colby College next summer.

Via ACPS

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A barricade and shots-fired situation at Woods Place is still ongoing one day after it allegedly started with a nearby road-rage incident.

Police said the man inside the house has fired at police outside the building, but police have not returned fire:

The incident started as a call for service for shots fired during a road-rage incident. Through investigations, APD confirmed the incident, and located the suspect at his home in the 1000 block of Woods Place. Officers attempted to apprehend the suspect around 12 p.m. Tuesday, November 23. The suspect refused to surrender and barricaded himself in the home. During the stand-off, the suspect shot several rounds at officers. No officers have discharged their weapon in this incident.

The incident has closed Quaker Lane between Braddock Road and Bishop Lane along with Woods Avenue and Woods Lane in the small neighborhood where the standoff is occurring.

Alexandria City High School’s King Street campus, which abuts the house where the barricade situation is occurring, has also closed today — though the impact of this is minimal given that students are out on Thanksgiving break. James Parker, director of athletics and student activities, tweeted a notice that all athletics activities at the school are canceled for today.

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After the 2019 decision to maintain one high school, Alexandria City Public Schools is finally getting ready to send its expanded campus concept to the city for review.

Plans specifically for the current Minnie Howard campus are scheduled to go to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Jan. 4:

Alexandria City Public Schools is seeking approval of a Development Special Use Permit (DSUP) to construct a new high school campus on the existing Minnie Howard campus site. The existing Minnie Hoard building will remain operational during demolition of the existing recreational facilities and construction of the new school building. Once the new school building is operational, the existing school building will be demolished and the remaining recreational areas, parking areas, and open space will be constructed in its place.

The DSUP notes that the new athletic facilities will have field lighting baked into the permit approval, avoiding the fight that delayed lights at the Parker-Gray Stadium for years.

“[The permit will] allow for congregate recreational facility lighting up to 80 feet in height; to allow for an increase in height of accessory netting for the recreational areas up to 40 feet in height; to allow the building height to exceed 50 feet up to 77 feet,” the docket said.

The plan will add new classroom space to the school, along with community meeting spaces, active recreation areas and more.

Earlier this year, the School Board chose a “pinwheel” design for the school that will shape classrooms and gym space into a nautilus-type curve with the existing school eventually replaced with an open field and other athletic spaces.

If approved, construction on the new school is scheduled to start in June 2022.

Image via ACPS

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