It was a quick week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.

With summer in full swing, three Alexandria athletes have made it on the U.S. Olympic Team — sprinter Noah Lyles, high-jumper Tynita Butts-Townsend and boxer Troy Isley.

In other sporting news, Old Town businesses beat Del Ray in a controversial softball game Wednesday, adding fuel to the fire of an intense rivalry.

It’s been super hot out lately, and the City urged caution and reminded residents to take advantage of special cooling centers.

On the COVID front, the city’s DASH bus service announced that one of its drivers passed away from complications from the virus.

Meanwhile, Mayor Justin Wilson believes that the city has met its 80% vaccination threshold, while Virginia Department of Health data says about 65% of residents over the age of 16 are partially vaccinated. The Alexandria Health Department, which just launched a COVID-19 test and vaccine pilot at T.C. Williams High School, says the data does not take into account city residents vaccinated in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

It’s also July 4 weekend, and in this week’s poll we asked whether readers plan on traveling, with 67% of respondents voting to stay home, 27% opting to travel by car and just 6% traveling by air.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Researchers call out shoddy craftsmanship in buried 18th century Alexandria ship
  2. Man suspected of raping 12-year-old stepdaughter in Landmark area flees to El Salvador
  3. Landmark Mall plan approved as Planning Commission demands better environmental considerations
  4. Alexandria leaders acknowledge serious security issues with elimination of school resource officer funding
  5. Shortened Alexandria Birthday celebration is still on for July 10
  6. Alexandria eyes bus rapid transit and bike lanes for Duke Street
  7. Parker-Gray tiny lot home moves forward with some unique challenges
  8. Alexandria woman dies after veering off road on Interstate 95
  9. City talks strategy on making Chirilagua/Arlandria neighborhood Amazon-proof
  10. UPDATE: Man taken into custody as West End apartment barricade situation ends peacefully
  11. BREAKING: California man arrested for West End murder, indicted with 16 others in massive racketeering conspiracy

Have a safe weekend!

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Alexandria Police say the COVID-19 pandemic had a lot to do with a 19% crime surge 2020.

Police released the city’s Part 1 crime statistics for 2020 on Tuesday, and included are the reported numbers of homicides, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults.

“2020 provided a unique set of challenges,” Police Chief Michael Brown said in a statement. “Our officers dedicated themselves to protecting the City and community members, while working through the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, both at home and on the job, as well the fallout and questions brought on by the death of George Floyd. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

Violent crime reportedly increased 3.33% over last year. There were three three homicides in 2020, up one death over 2019, and aggravated assaults increased 6%, with 208 incidents reported.

Residential burglaries fell “drastically” while commercial burglaries climbed nearly 50%, “likely due to stores being temporarily closed or having limited hours,” according to police.

Vehicle thefts also increased 54%, and police said the cause is largely from owners leaving cars unattended and unlocked during the pandemic. Police also reported that few thefts from vehicles involved use of force.

“There are simple steps vehicle owners can take to reduce their risk of becoming victims. Check on your vehicle daily, make sure the doors are locked and there are no valuables inside,” Brown said. “You should also move the vehicle periodically to reduce the appearance it is not being used.”

Below are the 2020 and 2019 Part 1 crime stats for Alexandria:

Crime Type 2019 2020 Change
Homicide 2 3 1
Rape 20 12 -8
Robbery 82 87 5
Aggravated Assault 196 208 12
Burglary 117 126 9
Larceny 2,093 2,473 380
Auto Theft 233 359 126
Total 2,743 3,268 525
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It’s the end of a busy week in Alexandria.

Once again, crime and public safety stories were the most read on ALXnow.

On Friday, we found that the 19-year-old man arrested for the September 30 West End murder of John Harding Pope was released on bail just eight days before the murder. Pope’s death is the second murder of the year. In the first murder, Ibrahim Bouaichi was out on bail when he allegedly killed his former girlfriend.

On Thursday, the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office confirmed that two suspected ISIS terrorists are now in the city jail. Alexanda Amon Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh also made their initial appearances at the Eastern District of Virginia federal courthouse in Alexandria.

On the pandemic front, there are now 73 COVID-19 deaths in the city, and the Virginia Department of Health projects there will be 20,000 more cases statewide by Thanksgiving. The city also announced that residents impacted by the pandemic might also be eligible to receive $100-$400 in grocery gift cards.

On the school front, T.C. Williams High School’s student newspaper Theogony broke the story that Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Jr. now sends one of his children to a private high school in the city.

Meanwhile, Alexandria was named the fifth best small city in U.S. by Condé Nast Traveler and made Forbes’ Weekend Getaway list.

Nearly 200 readers also participated in our weekly poll on passing out Halloween candy, and 60% said they would not hand out candy, 29% said they are doing modified trick-or-treating and 11% said they will hand out candy like usual.

If you need a good laugh, this Sunday at 8 p.m. there will be more COVID-friendly stand-up comedy in Old Town.

Here are ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria:

  1. BREAKING: Suspect Arrested for West End Murder
  2. BREAKING: Former Alexandria Nurse Jesse Bjerke Sentenced 65 Years For Raping Lifeguards at Gunpoint
  3. Report: ACPS Superintendent Sends Child to Bishop Ireton High School
  4. VIDEO: West End Murder Victim Identified
  5. Police: Illegal Drugs Sold in West End Via Snapchat During Pandemic
  6. Man Dies After Crash on N. Washington Street in Old Town
  7. Republican Jeff Jordan Running Uphill Battle Against Incumbent Rep. Don Beyer
  8. Delaware Woman Charged for Three Hit-And-Runs in Old Town and Driving Under the Influence
  9. Man Shot on Quantrell Avenue in City’s Second Murder of 2020
  10. Students, Parents Ask School Board to Not Renew Agreement Allowing Police at Alexandria City Public Schools
  11. Homeowner Shot in Targeted Del Ray Home Invasion

Have a safe weekend!

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A 39-year-old Arlington man has been sentenced to 65 years in prison for raping two lifeguards at gunpoint in Alexandria and Fairfax County.

Jesse Bjerke, a former nurse at Inova Alexandria Hospital, pleaded guilty last year to raping a lifeguard at a condominium complex swimming pool in the 200 block of Pickett Street on Labor Day weekend in 2016, as well as raping another woman in Fairfax County on August 1, 2014.

“The judgement shows an understanding for the violence and the pre-planning that went into these atrocious crimes,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter. “I think it will serve our community since he can’t be a predator on any other woman.”

Alexandria Police were able to locate Bjerke using genetic geneology.

“A DNA profile was developed from the sperm located within the victim, but a search revealed no match in law enforcement databases,” according to the city. “After traditional attempts to identify a suspect were unsuccessful and all leads had been exhausted, the Alexandria Police Department contracted with Parabon® Nanolabs to have the suspect’s DNA analyzed using genetic genealogy. Parabon® investigators used a public access site called GEDmatch to search for relatives of the suspect. Using the list of relatives and the strength of the relationship, Parabon® was able to suggest one suspect for further investigation: Jesse Bjerke, the defendant.”

As part of a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty, Bjerke admitted to raping a lifeguard in Fairfax in 2014, and both cases were tried simultaneously.

“When he is 65, he can apply for geriatric release,” Porter said. “But with my experience with violent crime that’s unlikely.”

Porter congratulated the police on finding the suspect.

“The police department really should be praised and did an outstanding job in corroborating that we have the right man,” he said. “And, of course, that led to a very solid case from an evidence standpoint, which in turn led to him taking responsibility for his crime.”

A description from the city of the 2016 incident is below the jump.

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A 45-year-old Alexandria man is in jail for allegedly attempting to rape a woman behind the 7-Eleven at 3412 Mount Vernon Avenue at the border of Del Ray and Arlandria.

James Bowen was arrested on July 19 and is currently in the Alexandria jail.

“It was reported that [the victim] was in the area behind the 7-Eleven convenience store when the suspect approached her and propositioned her for sex,” notes a search warrant affidavit.

The suspect then allegedly exposed himself to the victim, who is Latina, does not speak English and related her experience to investigators via a translator.

Bowen then allegedly returned, exposed himself and assaulted her. There were two witnesses who yelled at the suspect, who was allegedly naked from the waist down and “on top of the victim and appeared to be having intercourse.”

One witness told police that “once he shouted at them, the suspect quickly got up, got dressed and left,” noted the affidavit. “[The witness] reportedly next saw him at the 7-Eleven convenience store already talking with an officer and positively identified him as the suspect.”

Staff photo by James Cullum/Map via Google Maps

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(Updated at 4:30 p.m. on June 9) Alexandria Police say that more than half of the crime increases in ALXnow’s recent report are attributable to larcenies from vehicles during the pandemic and 36 incidents at the Target store at 3101 Richmond Highway. 

“The 80% increase in larcenies at Target year-to-date (45 in 2019 vs. 81 in 2020) is because the store significantly increased their loss prevention staff in January 2020,” Alexandria Police spokesman Lt. Courtney Ballantine told ALXnow. “This has helped identify more shoplifters, but it does not necessarily represent an increase in shoplifting.

Ballantine said the vehicle larcenies are primarily due to “owners leaving vehicles unattended for long periods of time while at home during the pandemic.”

He added that larcenies from buildings are down 19.2% year-to-date (167 in 2019, 135 in 2020). During the pandemic period alone (March to present), they are down 18.3% year-to-date (93 in 2019, 76 in 2020). 

Alexandria has experienced a double-digit percentage increase in crime over last year, according to data provided by the Alexandria Police Department to ALXnow.

While there have been no murders this year and aggravated assaults, rapes and robberies are down, there are noted increases in burglaries, larcenies and stolen vehicles.

Police are currently investigating a number of shooting incidents, including the March 31 shooting of a 17-year-old in what is believed to be a targeted attack, as well as a number of shots fired incidents.

As of June 6, there were 914 larcenies in the city, an increase of 119 incidents, or 15%, since last year. There were also 109 stolen vehicles, a 15% increase; and 46 burglaries, which is a 25% increase over last year.

While auto thefts increased this year, there were 18 vehicle thefts reported last month, which is a decrease from April, which saw 26 stolen vehicles, according to Alexandria Police spokesman Lt. Courtney Ballantine.

Among the vehicles stolen between March 27 and April 26 were eight reported incidents of stolen mopeds or scooter vehicles in Alexandria, all of which remain under investigation, Ballantine said.

“All of these incidents occurred on a public highway, street, sidewalk or open access parking lots for apartment complexes,” police said in a search warrant affidavit.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Hospital Suspends Visitation — “Exceptions to Inova Health System’s Visitation Guidance can be made in extenuating circumstances and with prior approval from a care site’s administration.” [Zebra]

Man Convicted for 2016 Rape — “[P]olice in Alexandria — for the first time — ran DNA through public genealogical databases and developed a family tree based on known DNA profiles, which pointed to Bjerke as a suspect. After Bjerke was arrested, a buccal swab of his DNA matched DNA found on the victim.” [WTOP]

Major COVID-19 Budget Impact, Mayor Says — “In FY 2010 (Great Recession), we adopted a budget that dropped spending by 2.2%. It would now appear the projected impact of COVID-19 on OUR CURRENT FISCAL year (now through June 30th) will be almost 5% down. Next year will be much worse.” [Facebook]

City Facilities Closed or Open by Appointment Only — “To promote social distancing during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, all City of Alexandria facilities are now either closed to the public or open by appointment only, until further notice.” [City of Alexandria]

City Closes Rec. Centers, Parks, Playgrounds — “The Alexandria Health Department (AHD) has recommended these changes because public play areas have continued to attract groups of more than 10 people despite earlier warnings against this practice.” [Alexandria Living]

Eateries Support Employees During Pandemic — “With five of their six restaurants closed, ARP is using Lena’s kitchen to prepare meals for four, distributed to employees three times a week along with boxes packed with food, toilet paper and small cash stipends.” [Zebra]

Old Town Books Doing All Business Online — “Thank you for staying connected, for the tweets, the shares, the kind words of encouragement. We need them. We love them + you + books + we’re not giving up. No matter how bleak things get a book can do some good, for someone, somehow. We’re determined to keep on with our virtual book clubs, $1 shipping, NEW forthcoming virtual writing classes. As long as you keep ordering we’ll keep on keeping on. Thank you. LONG LIVE THE BOOKSHOP.” [Facebook]

Online Ordering Only at Pork Barrel BBQ, Holy Cow, Sushi Bar — “We greatly appreciate the support and know that every order keeps our doors open and most importantly KEEPS JOBS!” [Facebook]

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Morning Notes

Man Pleads Guilty in Rape Case — “An Alexandria nurse pleaded guilty Thursday to a 2016 rape solved using a genealogical database. Jesse Bjerke, 38, followed a ­24-year-old lifeguard to the local pool where she worked one day that September, pointed a gun at her head and assaulted her. He confessed Thursday in Alexandria Circuit Court to rape, abduction and gun crimes.” [Washington Post, WTOP]

Vigil for Homicide Victim — “A candlelight vigil is planned to honor an Alexandria homicide victim. The vigil for De’shon Jenkins, 21, will happen Friday, Oct. 18 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the 300 block of South Reynolds Street, where the crime occurred.” [Patch]

Film Screening at AMC Hoffman Center — “Join us to learn about Claudia Lacy’s quest for justice following the hanging death of her son Lennon. Filmmaker Jacqueline Olive’s Sundance Film Festival award-winning documentary Always in Season confronts the trauma of more than a century of lynching African Americans as it bleeds into the present.” [Facebook]

Cat Cafe Planning to Open This Spring — “A dozen or so new tenants are coming to 109 S. Alfred St. this spring, and they’re ready to cuddle. Mount Purrnon, Alexandria’s first cat café, doesn’t have centuries of history like its namesake but, when it opens in spring 2020, co-owners Kristen Cowen and Adam Patterson aim to bring cats, wine and a hot new business concept to Old Town.” [Alexandria Times]

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