Police blame gangs for shootings; owner of studio defends business

Crowd listening to police speak
Franconia District Station commander Capt. Gregory Fried, center, talks to the crowd at the Highland Park Pool and Tennis Club on Saturday afternoon.

More than 60 people met with leaders from the Fairfax County Police Department on Saturday afternoon to get more information on the recent shootings in Gum Springs and Rose Hill, which left six people wounded in three days last week.

The police told the crowd at the Highland Park Pool and Tennis Club in Rose Hill that nobody is yet in custody, but emphasized that finding those responsible for the incidents — including a broad daylight shootout on Telegraph Road just around the corner from the meeting’s location — is their highest priority.

“It’s only a matter of time, if we don’t stop this, that someone walking by [or] driving by is going to get hit by a stray bullet,” Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler told the crowd gathered at the Highland Park Pool and Tennis Club. “And we’re not going to have that here in our county. We’re doing everything we can to bring these people to justice.”

Tuesday afternoon’s shooting on Telegraph Road was captured on security cameras, showing individuals in two cars exchanging gunfire in front of a commercial building that is home to the Midieast Studios, Reserved Barking doggie daycare, and an HVAC company.

At least three men were wounded in Tuesday’s shooting. Additionally, two teenagers and one man were injured in separate shootings on Fordson Court in Gum Springs on Monday and Wednesday.

Multiple audience members asked the police Saturday if anything could be done to shut down the Midieast Studios, a popular recording studio used by local hip-hop artists. Another shooting happened in front of the studio in February, and the first two questions for police on Saturday expressed concerns about the studio, which operates 24 hours a day.

“It bring drugs and it brings people from out of our area,” said one resident, noting that his young children play outside nearby and could have been hit by stray gunfire on Tuesday. “We don’t need that establishment there.”

Roessler said that other county agencies would be looking into the studio for potential code violations, but said there is little the police can do to close down a business. He did say that both February’s shooting and Tuesday’s shootout were likely tied to the studio in some way.

“There’s a high probability that it is related [to the studio] but I can’t say that as a fact right now,” Roessler said.

Owner defends studio

A co-owner of Midieast Studios attended some of Saturday’s meeting, and said afterward that she was hurt by the implication that Midieast had anything to do with the shootings.

“This is a family business,” said Houda Jelbaoui, noting that Midieast has been located there for 15 years and never experienced gun violence prior to the two incidents this year. “This hurts us … especially when you see the faces [at the meeting] turning against us.”

Jelbaoui, who owns the business along with her husband, said that Midieast has cooperated with police in both shootings, including letting them inside the business to review security camera footage. She also said the studio’s security camera footage from February’s shooting helped lead to the arrest of two men who are facing charges in the incident.

Jelbaoui said no recording sessions were scheduled for the time when Tuesday’s shooting took place, and that none of the individuals involved entered the studio before the shootout happened.

“We don’t even know who the guys were,” Jelbaoui said, saying that the two cars pulled into the parking lot within a few minutes of each other, but that the individuals inside the cars did not interact with any of the businesses in the center.

“We didn’t recognize any of them, they were not scheduled,” Jelbaoui said.

Jelbaoui said the studio, which also is home to a t-shirt business, is popular with everyone from high school kids with dreams of becoming rappers to celebrities who choose Midieast in part because of its low-key location. Artists such as J. Cole, Kevin Gates and Maya have used the studio, and local hip-hop artists such as Fat Trel have gotten their start there before signing with record labels.

The success has helped Midieast grow, and it now occupies a much larger portion of the building than the original space it started in, Jelbaoui said. The location on Telegraph Road is perfect, Jelbaoui said, and they look forward to more success there.

“This is low-key, in the middle of Alexandria, very quiet neighborhood … this is the best,” Jelbaoui said.”

Gang involvement

Few new details about any of last week’s shootings emerged from Saturday’s meeting. However police made clear that they believe the violence is gang-related, and that February’s shooting on Telegraph Road may have some tie-in with the parties involved in last week’s shootings.

Roessler also reiterated the department’s longstanding policy not to mention the names of the gangs believed to be involved.

“I will not do free advertising for gangs, I will not mention their names,” Roessler said.

When audience members asked how they can help, Roessler and the other officers at the meeting said monitoring the children’s phones and electronic devices was one of the most effective ways of combating gangs.

“Where we need your help is through the eyes and ears you have to look over the shoulder of your children,” Roessler said. “Gang activity is done through the devices in their hand.”

The police did not go into specifics about what kind of evidence they have, but did say that in addition to the video footage, they have a large amount of forensic evidence.

Roessler said “gangs do not know boundaries” and are operating across multiple jurisdictions in the D.C. area, and that the FCPD is working with federal, state and other local municipal police forces to solve this case.

Asked if future violence was anticipated, Roessler said he could not say for sure, but did say last week’s shootings represented a significant escalation in the intensity of the feud between gangs.

“My fear is that these have ramped up, and we need help immediately to bring these people to justice,” Roessler said.

Harold Laney, a Hayfield area resident whose children attend a daycare across the street from where Tuesday’s shooting occurred, said that many parents and residents are concerned that the violence will continue. If that happens, Lane said, it could cause people to reconsider using the daycare because the safety of their children would be put at risk.

“[The children at the daycare] are outside, like kids should be, playing like three hours a day,” Laney said. “At what point do you say this isn’t a safe place to leave your kids playing?

Politicians, officials attend meeting: A number of local political officials, candidates and school board members attended Saturday’s meeting, including Lee District Supervisor candidate Rodney Lusk, Commonwealth’s Attorney candidate Steve Descano, Lee District school board member Tamara Derenak Kaufax, Mount Vernon District school board member Karen Corbett Sanders, Marcus Wadsworth, aide to Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay, and Christine Morin, chief of staff for Mount Vernon Supervisor Dan Storck.

More meetings: Two more community meetings on the recent shootings will be held this week:

  • Tuesday, July 9 at the Gum Springs Community Center at 7:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, July 11 at Rose Hill Elementary School at 6 p.m.

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