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Twenty six Alexandria City Public School students were arrested in the final two quarters of the 2021-2022 school year. There were also 34 students injured, 28 reported fights/assaults and 11 incidents of sexual assault/sexual misconduct.

There were also 15 seized weapons, including seven knives and three stun guns/tasers.

That’s according to a School Safety Data report to be presented to the School Board on Thursday (September 22). With the four quarters of the year combined, 46 students were arrested and 68 injured.

The report sheds light on the safety situation within the school system, which came under intense scrutiny when School Resource Officers were defunded between August and October of last year. The SROs — police officers assigned to the city’s high school and middle school campuses, were brought back by City Council after a violent first few months back to in-person schooling.

Most notably, just before the end of the school year an Alexandria City High School senior was stabbed to death in broad daylight in the parking lot of the Bradlee Shopping Center.

In the first two quarters of the 2021-2022 school year, 20 ACPS students were arrested. There were 41 reported fights/assaults and 13 seized weapons, including a gun, five knives, a stun gun, two fake weapons, and pepper spray. There were also two robberies, three drug offenses, a bomb threat and 13 pulled fire alarms.

There were 194 total incidents reported in the third and fourth quarters.

  • 36 incidents characterized as “other” (parking lot accidents, trespassing, mental health episodes, property lost/damaged)
  • 34 injuries that required medical assistance
  • 28 fights/assaults
  • 19 incidents with drugs
  • 15 incidents with weapons
  • 14 reports of a missing student
  • 12 incidents of prohibited items/materials
  • 11 incidents of sexual assault/sexual misconduct
  • 11 incidents of online threats
  • Six pulled fire alarms
  • Two Child Protective Services reports
  • Two reports of suspicious activity
  • Two reports of vandalism
  • Two reports of theft

There were 82 incidents reported at the Alexandria City High School campuses, 65 incidents at the city’s two middle schools and 35 incidents at elementary schools. There were also 84 police calls for service — 48 at the high school campuses, 30 at the middle schools and four at elementary schools.

  • 16 students were arrested for fights/assaults
  • Four students were arrested for drug possession
  • Three students were arrested for alcohol possession

There were 14 students arrested an the Alexandria City High School campus and 12 middle school students arrested. A vast majority of the students arrested are minorities.

The School Board will also get an update on the School Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) Advisory Group. That group is tasked with making a recommendation on the future role of school resource officers within the school system. The 16-person group has conducted three meetings so far, and plans to have its final recommendations to the School Board by mid-December.

According to a presentation that will be delivered to the School Board: “The mission of the SLEP advisory group is to assist ACPS leadership, the Superintendent and the School Board in reimagining the school law enforcement partnership with the Alexandria Police Department in order to ensure a positive, safe and equitable school experience for all students.”

Agenda Alexandria will discuss student safety on Monday, September 26, at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial (101 Callahan Drive) at 6:30 p.m. Panelists include Alexandria Police Chief Don Hayes, ACPS Chief of Student Services and Equity Julie Crawford, Rene Islas of The Community Group and former ACPS Superintendent Herb Berg.

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In five years, Jason Ellis wants Momentum Collective, Inc. to be a charter school teaching kids the arts in Northern Virginia.

The nonprofit resumed programming in October, after a two-year Covid hiatus, and are one again teaching low and moderate income children how to sing, dance and act in summer camps and after school at the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Ruby Tucker Center. About 90 elementary school-aged kids have participated since programming resumed, and the plan is to eventually bring back middle and high school kids.

Ellis, who founded the nonprofit six years ago, is a former program and resident and community services director with ARHA. He’s a director, actor, singer, dancer and writer.

“I’m about empowerment,” Ellis told ALXnow. “We have empowered our kids with a sense of urgency so that they can be in control of their own lives and destiny and make good choices.”

Momentum Collective, Inc. partners with Alexandria City Public Schools’ Link Club program, the city and ARHA to work with kids after school and in the summer.

“There aren’t a lot of opportunities for kids, particularly Black and brown kids in under-resourced families, who don’t have the financial resources to participate in meaningful arts enrichment programming within the city,” Ellis said. “We created the organization specifically to target kids within the city of Alexandria to have access to arts enrichment programs for free.”

Ellis was also the head of school for the YouthBuild Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. from 2018 to 2019. It’s an experience that has shifted the focus of the organization.

“We have a five year plan to start a charter school for middle school youth,” Ellis said. “For now, though, our short-term plan is to expand our programming into other recreation centers, particularly like on the West End, because that’s always a underserved area of the city.”

Momentum Collective is conducting a creative writing workshop in September at Jefferson Houston Recreation Center. The workshop is open to Alexandria children, and cash awards will be presented to the winners.

“Then we’re actually going to stage their writing productions from our winners,” Ellis said.

Ellis and his team use technology to motivate their students.

“Kids are very interested in performing,” he said. “By nature they reach they want to showcase something, which is why they’re constantly on TikTok and Instagram. So,  if I say I’m going to be working on something that you can put on TikTok, they get it — that’s the end result for them and that’s what they want to work toward. If I give them a script and tell them we’re going to put a web series on YouTube, they get excited about that, because that’s what they’re familiar with.”

Via Facebook

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Want to lend a helping hand? Alexandria is full of summer volunteer opportunities.

Volunteer Alexandria’s website lists plenty of ways for residents to give back.

Here’s a roundup of some of the opportunities this summer:

Distribute food for ALIVE! — “Assist ALIVE! feeding food insecure City of Alexandria residents in local Alexandria neighborhoods throughout the city during weekdays. Volunteer roles include bagbing food, handing out perishable and nonperishable items, breakdown after the distribution, load and unload the truck.”  Click Here to sign up.”

Sexual Assault Center hotline operator — “The Sexual Assault Center (SAC) offers support to victims of sexual assault and their families and friends. Trained volunteers and staff are available 24 hours a day to provide crisis intervention and emotional support, advocacy with medical, police, and court systems, short-term individual and group counseling, and information and referrals. In addition to services for individuals, the staff is also available to provide training, information, and presentations to local schools and organizations. The Sexual Assault Center offers information and support for sexual assault (i.e. rape, attempted rape, fondling, indecent exposure, etc.) survivors and their family and friends, sexual harassment and stalking victims, and individuals of any age, race, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical ability, etc. Click HERE to learn more.”

Mentor for girls — “Space of Her Own is looking for mentors to build long lasting bonds with 9- to 11-year-olds through art projects after school.
Information sessions are scheduled at August 9 and 10 at the Lee Center. Click HERE to sign-up.”

Volunteer for Back to School Community Day — “On Saturday, August 27, UNCUT Youth needs volunteers to setup, breakdown, and provide support for their event – a day of food, games, raffles, and giveaways. Click HERE to sign-up.”

Youth sport coaches — “Coach an assigned group of children and focus on skill development, safety, fair, play, sportsmanship and fun. Work to esatblish and improve team unity and spirit. Click HERE to learn more.”

Tour guide at Carlyle House — “Carlyle House Historic Park, a colonial house museum in Old Town Alexandria, seeks volunteer docents to give public tours of the building. Carlyle House Docents commit to volunteering at least 2 weekday shifts per month or 1 weekend shift per month. Click HERE to express interest.”

Mentoring and tutoring at Casa Chirilagua — “The Arlandria-based organization Casa Chirilagua is seeking volunteers for its after-school programming. Click HERE for a full list of opportunities.”

Job counselor at Together We Bake — “Are you looking for a meaningful way to get involved with TWB? We are recruiting volunteers to act as Job Counselors for our upcoming sessions. This is a great opportunity to work one-on-one and build impactful relationships with Team Members while helping them discover and expand their career goals. Click HERE to learn more.”

Alexandria Symphony Orchestra concert volunteer — “The ASO needs your help to usher at performances and perform other duties. You can watch the performance once patrons are seated. Come hear this great orchestra if you love symphony. Click HERE to learn more.”

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The 2021-2022 school year was “crazy”, says René Islas, the parent of four Alexandria City Public Schools students.

Islas leads The Community Group, a new movement of locals with a list of safety recommendations for the city and school system. After a school year punctuated by violent events, Islas said ACPS needs to work on prevention, justice, and accountability.

“Last year was a crazy year,” Islas told ALXnow. “I can’t tell you how many times I picked up one of my four children from school because they felt that it was either wasted time or unsafe.”

One of Islas’s children even chose to hide during lunchtime out of fear of being hurt by a fight, and he forgets the number of times he picked up his children early from school.

“On many occasions, there were substitute teachers that were not teaching the children,” he said. “There was no one in control of the school or my kids, so I’d go and pick them up.”

On July 16, The Community Group met at Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library to whittle down their list to these action items they want ACPS to implement:

  • Increase transparency publishing timely data
  • An early warning and timely response system for at-risk youth
  • Maintain School Resource Officers
  • Increase personnel in schools

In May, Islas created the group’s “Community Views of Safety in Alexandria Schools” survey. Many of the responses to the survey, which got 179 responses, were by aggrieved parents.

Below are some of their written comments in that survey:

“While in middle school, my son was struck by 3 boys in the bathroom. We reported it but nothing was done.”

“My kindergarten student was physically harmed by another student. We were able to resolve a bullying situation with the school, and are satisfied. I am more concerned with reports of sexual assaults, physical beatings of students, and weapons brought into schools or discharged on or near school property, and also it would be very beneficial to parents if we had more communication to us on incidents occurring at Alexandria schools.”

“My spouse was accosted at a varsity football game by a gang of students. My oldest son (Class of 2021) was assaulted at GW in 7th Grade.”

“Some kids on my child’s school bus (elementary school) are just out of control. They use F word all the time and some of them are in 1st grade, tell the bus driver to shut up, someone smoked, someone threw a rock at the bus driver etc. I talked to the assistant principal at least 3 times, she talked to the kids many times but no improvements. I’m worried about the middle school (Hammond) he is going to in a few years with these kids.”

Islas has a meeting set up next week to talk with City Councilwoman Alyia Gaskins, he says, and has widely distributed the results of the survey to City Council and the School Board. Gaskins recently co-authored a citywide memo with Mayor Justin Wilson on improving school safety.

“Parents just want to know, to have some visibility into what’s happening in school,” Islas said. “We need more action.  We’re trying to spur that along and offer some solutions that are sensible, that they can act on, and we’re happy to help in any way that we can.”

ACPS has wrestled with an increase in violent crime incidents this school year. According to a school safety report released in March, 18 ACPS students were arrested in the first two quarters of this school year, in addition to 41 reported fights/assaults and 13 seized weapons. The weapons seized include a gun, five knives, a stun gun, two fake weapons, and pepper spray.

Islas also wants more documentation released, like on the two final quarters of the school year.

“We have safety data from the first two quarters, but not the third or fourth quarters,” Islas said.

On the early warning system, Islas says that the school system should be aware if kids don’t turn in their homework, or are tardy, or exhibit alarming behavior.

“If the kid has been absent from school for several days, somebody would be notified to find out why and how and discern how they can help the child,” Islas said. “Instead of waiting until there’s a major incident, and they have to call the police and all of those things. Does that make sense?”

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With fireworks, cupcakes and music, Alexandria celebrated its 273rd birthday on Sunday, July 10.

Thousands were in attendance for the free party, which also celebrates America’s birthday and was supposed to be held on Saturday (July 9), but was held off due to rain. What resulted was a less crowded event than years past — with performances by Town Crier Ben Fiore-Walker, Poet Laureate Zeina Azzam, and the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra (ASO).

During the fireworks show over the Potomac River, the symphony played the “Superman theme” by John Williams instead of the traditional “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky. ASO Conductor Jim Ross said that it would not be fitting to play music by a Russian composer commemorating Alexandria’s and the country’s birthdays.

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Alexandria health providers are now offering the COVID-19 vaccine to children under five years of age, according to the Alexandria Health Department.

According to AHD:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for this age group and accepted the recommendation of its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which met on June 17 and 18 to review administration and safety data for the vaccine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended the vaccines’ Emergency Use Authorization last week to include doses and vaccine schedules for children between six months and five years of age. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is for ages six months – four years and is three doses, with three weeks between the first and second dose, and eight weeks between the second and third dose. The Moderna vaccine is for ages six months – five years and is two doses separated by four weeks.

Parents and guardians in Alexandria have multiple locations to choose from when getting their youngest vaccinated, including AHD vaccine clinics, pharmacies (for ages three and up), and pediatricians’ offices. Minors are not able to consent to immunizations, so a parent or guardian must consent either in advance or at the vaccination site, depending on the provider. Vaccine appointments for this age group at AHD clinics will be posted on a rolling basis, and parents and guardians are encouraged to contact their children’s healthcare provider/pediatrician to see if their office is providing COVID-19 vaccines for this group.

Appointments are required at this time.

In the meantime, two more residents have died from the virus, bringing the death toll to 191. The number of reported cases has reached 36,369, and the seven-day rate for new cases is 68.7, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Last month, AHD announced the availability of booster shots for kids ages five to 11.

Vaccinated in Alexandria

  • About 78% of residents (119,667 people) are fully vaccinated
  • 86% (131,739 people) of residents got at least one dose
  • 65,283 residents got booster shots
  • There are 22,141 unvaccinated Alexandria residents

Alexandria’s two-and-a-half-year-long state of emergency will expire on June 30..

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Mayor Justin Wilson says its time to take a step back and reassess Alexandria’s approach to student safety.

In a joint City Council meeting with the School Board on Monday night (June 13), Wilson said that the community needs to be educated on how the city and school system plan to make schools safer.

“I do think part of this conversation is to step back, because I don’t think there’s many communities around the country that invest the amount that we do in the very ways that we do in our kids, and clearly we still have kids slipping through the cracks in this institution. That’s sobering for us all.”

Wilson and Gaskins presented the Board with a draft memo that will start a “rigorous engagement” program to talk with youth and parents to “learn what is at the root of youth trauma and violence, and act.”

Wilson said that it’s been an interesting last several weeks since the fatal stabbing of Alexandria City High School Senior Luis Mejia Hernandez on May 24. He also said that there is no one single solution, but that a coordinated approach on improving students safety is about creating a public process and approach to solving the issue.

“I don’t mean to be negative on this, but I’m doubtful that in this effort we will determine some kind of magic thing that we have never thought of,” Wilson said. “I don’t think we’ll have anything like that. But I think it’ll be a conversation around how we provide services, scale, scope, how we target things, and where the need is, and I hope that as we have that conversation, we’ll learn more about the effectiveness of what we do today, rather than unnecessarily (try) dramatically new things.”

Council will discuss the memo at its meeting tonight (June 14).

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., who announced his resignation last Friday, did not attend the meeting, and is out of the office until June 21.

Board Chair Meagan Alderton said that the Board needs to improve its efforts to inform to community on ACPS activities.

“I agree,” Alderton said. “I do think we need to do a better job as a Board of educating the community about what actually happens in our schools, because I think that could also shift the conversation. People are making guesses all the time. It becomes counterproductive to what we’re actually trying to do. I second that 100%. I think that there’s an educational component to all of this, so that people just know what’s happening.”

Gaskins said that the memo does not specifically outline City departments for certain projects, since it is the duty of the city and its multiple departments to work collaboratively. She also wants there to be a student summit at some point in the near future to discuss coping with the pandemic and violence-related traumas.

“I think it really is a starting point and call to action to give space for us to listen to our young people, hear what they have to say, be able to evaluate what we’re doing, identify the things that we’re not doing and then put in place a plan that we are holding ourselves accountable to,” Gaskins said at the meeting. “I think this is really an opportunity to think about: How do we activate multiple departments? How do we activate and normalize every resource we have available to ensure the health and safety of our young people?”

School Board Member Abdel Elnoubi said he would do everything to help Council in the effort.

“Politicians and and leaders are looked at as good ones when they can articulate and speak, but we really need some time for people how much we should be listening as well,” Elnoubi said. “Thank you so much for doing this. I’m looking forward to seeing how this turns out.”

Former Sheriff Dana Lawhorne watched the meeting from home.

“I’m glad that our City Council and School Board had a robust discussion tonight about the safety and wellbeing of our youth,” Lawhorne said. “I’m encouraged by the plan put forward by Councilwoman Gaskins and Mayor Wilson. We all need to do our part to support it.”

According to a school safety report released in March, 18 ACPS students were arrested in the first two quarters of this school year, in addition to 41 reported fights/assaults and 13 seized weapons. The weapons seized include a gun, five knives, a stun gun, two fake weapons, and pepper spray. Students also filmed dozens of fights and posted them on social media.

At tonight’s meeting, Council will also consider designating former School Board Member Chris Lewis as its designee to the proposed 16-person School Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) Advisory Group. That group will make a recommendation this fall to the interim-Superintendent (or new Superintendent) on the future role of school resource officers at Alexandria City High School and Francis C. Hammond and George Washington Middle Schools.

Separately, Council will also consider passing a gun violence prevention resolution, which encourages the school system to “review school curriculum, safety protocols, and professional development” related to gun safety and suicide prevention, as well as the scheduling of School Board work sessions before the start of the 2022-2023 school year to review those measures.

According to the memo:

In the short-term the Alexandria Police Department will continue its work to investigate recent acts of violence and provide appropriate security interventions to make future acts of violence less likely. To sustainably support the resiliency of our youth and prevent violence, we need to listen as much as we talk. We must engage a diverse range of stakeholders to listen to the experiences of our young people and center their voices, learn what is at the root of youth trauma and violence, and act. With this rigorous engagement, we can design and refine the systems and reforms required to:

  • Address youth trauma and mental health
  • Coordinate across sectors to identify challenges, needs, and opportunities
  • Develop sustainable strategies to align services and existing initiatives
  • Identify metrics and transparent processes to hold ourselves accountable
  • Target investments at identified gaps
  • Prioritize equity
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Updated at 5:30 p.m. On April 19, at 6:30 p.m., a social worker at Inova Fairfax Hospital contacted the Child Protective Services hotline.

The social worker reported that a three-year-old girl was overdosing and was brought to the hospital emergency room by her mother in a Lyft transport, according to a police search warrant affidavit.

“By the time (the child and her mother) arrived at the hospital, the child was in full cardiac arrest,” police said in a search warrant affidavit. “The child was treated with Narcan and immediately reacted.”

Narcan is a prescription medicine that can reverse an opioid overdose through injection or intranasal mist.

Police later found the mother and daughter in the hospital’s pediatric unit. The mother told police that she is homeless was staying at a friend’s house. She told police that her child picked up a cup and put it to her lips, and that soon after she became increasingly lethargic, according to a search warrant affidavit.

The woman also reportedly told the social worker that she did not know what was inside the cup. When police asked the mother where she was when the incident occurred, she said that she didn’t know the address. She also said that her friend’s name is Tiffany.

The child was removed from her mother during the investigation and placed in the custody of one of the father’s cousins, according to the search warrant affidavit.

Over the next several days, the social worker spoke with the child’s father, who told her that his ex (the mother of the child) confided that she “made up Tiffany’s name and that she was at another friend’s house,” according to the search warrant affidavit.

“[The mother] is purposely not telling us where she was when the incident occurred,” police said in the search warrant affidavit.

The cousin told police that the child reported she and her mother were, in fact, at another cousin’s house when the incident occurred, that the mother of the child has always struggled with drugs, and that “her preference is Percocet laced with Fentanyl,” police said in the search warrant affidavit.

“[The cousin] stated that even though [the mother] knew what was going on with [the child], she didn’t tell the medical staff when she arrived at the hospital. She knew that [her child] had drugs in her system and stayed quiet,” police said in the search warrant affidavit.

No arrests have been made in connection to this incident, and APD could not be reached for comment.

Anyone who suspects that a child is being abused or neglected should call the city’s CPS hotline at 703-746-5800, or the Virginia hotline at 1-800-552-7096. If a child is in immediate danger, call 911 for police assistance.

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Updated at 3 p.m. on June 6: A family member of Luis Mejia Hernandez walked the stage and received a standing ovation from the students, staff and families in attendance at George Mason University’s EagleBank Arena.

Guillermo Romero took took the diploma for his nephew, kissed it and raised it to the sky.

Hernandez was fatally stabbed in the parking lot of the Bradlee Shopping Center on May 24.

Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said that Hernandez’s life was tragically cut short on by a senseless act of violence.

“We were looking forward to seeing Luis cross the stage today,” Hutchings said.

Hernandez was recognized by ACHS Executive Principal Peter Balas as a hard worker.

“I want to take a moment to ask everyone to hold Luis Hernandez in their thoughts — a Titan who should be here with us today,” Balas told students. “To the Hernandez family, please know that you are forever a part of the Titan family. We are with you now and we always will be. We will hold you in our hearts during this challenging time, and we thank you for entrusting your son to us for his education.”

More than 800 ACHS seniors walked the stage. This is the first graduating class of Alexandria City High School since it changed its name from T.C. Williams High School. It was also the first indoor, in-person graduation for the school in three years.

Balas said that students in this generation are taking their mental health seriously, and that the past few years have been full of traumatic events.

“These past few years have not been normal or usual in any way,” Balas said. “I hope you can look back and remember that you were there for each other, lifting each other up, as you made your way into the world.”

The story and caption incorrectly said that the person who received the diploma was Hernandez’s father. It was a family member.

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Police at the Bradlee Shopping Center, two days after the fatal stabbing in the parking lot on May 24, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

It’s been quiet at the Bradlee Shopping Center McDonald’s since 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez was fatally stabbed in a brawl in the parking lot on Tuesday (May 24). Two days after the incident, a lone police cruiser now sits near the spot where Hernandez was stabbed.

Video of the incident obtained by ALXnow revealed that police arrived at the scene before the stabbing occurred, no sirens were used and they struggled to break up the fight. There were about 30-50 Alexandria City High School students involved and no arrests have been made in connection to the incident.

Alexandria Police told ALXnow that they are not investigating their response to the incident and sirens were not used because they did not anticipate such a big brawl.

“We got a call for a fight, and we sent officers to a fight,” Alexandria Police spokesman Captain Courtney Ballantine told ALXnow. “When they got there, they realized how big the fight was, and they asked for more additional units. As the incident went on, more units were requested and sirens started coming in as the need was a priority.”

Lunchtime and after-school are reliably busy periods at the restaurant, and staff said that fights between students are frequent. One person was injured in a fight there last year and a juvenile was shot last September.

“Fights happen all the time in here,” a McDonald’s staffer said. “It’s bad.”

Meanwhile, a GoFundMe for Hernandez has so far raised more than $17,000.

Alexandria City High School sent students home after the incident and transitioned to virtual learning for the rest of the week.

ACPS leadership will also take these days to prepare for in-person learning to resume at all ACHS campuses with enhancements to the security posture on Tues., May 31, 2022,” ACHS principal Peter Balas wrote in an email. “We have made some adjustments to the high school day for the remainder of the school year to support student movement throughout the building to include a staggered dismissal at 3:15 p.m., a refined lunch block and class transition process.”

The incident occurred while students were taking their Standards of Learning tests. It was not a full school day and large groups of children were walking between both ACHS campuses.

This year the school implemented a new Lunch and Learn policy, where four separate lunch periods were converted to a single 74-minute-long lunch period where students don’t have to eat in the cafeteria.

“If there are any needs or concerns about how a student is coping, students or families should reach out to their school counselor via email, through Canvas, or by calling the school at 703-824-6800,” Balas wrote.

Hernandez’s death marks the city’s third homicide of 2022 after a murder in the Foxchase neighborhood and a teenager killed in an alleged attempted carjacking in Potomac Yard earlier this month.

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