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Sterling Residents Talk Gang Prevention Following Fatal Shooting

© Leesburg Today - 09/22/2015

More than 100 residents concerned about gang violence gathered at Park View High School on Tuesday night-two-and-a-half weeks after the school was on lockdown while authorities searched for suspects of a nearby shooting.

More than 100 residents concerned about gang violence gathered at Park View High School on Tuesday night-two-and-a-half weeks after the school was on lockdown while authorities searched for suspects of a nearby shooting.

When looking at the crowd that gathered in the auditorium for a forum on preventing gang activity, Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman appeared pleased with the attendance.

""This demonstrates how involved this community is,"" he said. ""We get our best information related to crimes from you.""

The meeting, put on by the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, was held in response to the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Park View student Danny Centeno-Miranda on Sept. 4. While authorities have released few details about the case, neighbors are concerned it was a gang-related crime.

Centeno-Miranda was shot at least twice while walking to his bus stop by a 17-year-old illegal immigrant, according to the Sheriff's Office, and 20-year-old Henry Dominguez-Vasquez and 18-year-old Juan Aguirre-Zelaya, also illegal immigrants, were accomplices. All three are in custody and held without bond.

The law enforcement agency held Tuesday's meeting to go over signs and indicators of gang activity and to educate residents about what preventative measures are being done to limit gang-related incidents.

One resident was moved to tears when speaking to officials, saying that there's a ""heightened sense of fear"" in the community and that there's a ""sense of frustration that nothing can be done.""

She and other residents said they are concerned about what they see as a lack of engagement among the sheriff deputies to prevent crimes: When they are called, there's often nothing that they can do to help.

""You guys are really not saying anything,"" Allen Gabrielli, a former member of the Sheriff's Office, said. ""We need answers to what we can do and avoid these type of things. There's a lot of gang activity and no patrols available.""

Chapman said violent crimes are down by 22 percent this year compared to 2014. But a few residents questioned that statistic, saying quarterly reports indicate overall crime is up in the county.

A few residents asked about whether there are enough deputies to protect the constantly growing population of Loudoun. Chapman said the department has added 60 positions in recent years, but he would like to have more officers on staff.

""Recruitment is a big issue here and in the country,"" Capt. Greg Brown added. ""We're constantly battling to bring in officers, and it's a two-year process before we can get them operational.""

A parent of a Park View and a Sterling Middle School student said more parents need to be involved in the community, suggesting that admission charges to sporting events in the county should be reduced to encourage youth to attend the games rather than getting involved in criminal activity.

""Many people can't afford to do activities like going to a football game,"" she said.

Sheriff's Sgt. Kevin Tucker agreed with the sentiment that more parents need to be involved. He said the biggest reason a young person joins a gang is because of the lack of a father figure or other caring family members.

""The best thing you can do is be a mentor to these kids,"" Tucker said.

Tucker acknowledged a gang presence in Loudoun, including MS-13, 18th Street Gang, Bloods, Crips, Vice Lords, and a few biker gangs.

""There are 12 to 15 known gangs in the county,"" Tucker said. ""But in cities like Chicago, there are about 1,000.""

Numerous residents said they see youth ""drinking and smoking weed"" in the community, but they said that anytime authorities are called, it's too late.

Park View junior Nathaniel Coombs said after the event that he felt ""absolutely safe"" when the school went into lockdown Sept. 4, and he said he was interested in hearing more about what the county can do to attract more law-enforcers.

""I think the meeting did serve its purpose, which was for the most part to calm people down and make sure people know work is being done,"" Coombs said.

Each member of the Sheriff's Office who spoke said the most important aspect of preventing gang-related crimes is communication with law enforcement.

""This is an opportunity born out of tragedy,"" Brown said. ""It's an opportunity to reflect as individuals on how to keep our community safe. Let's use this to strengthen our bonds.""

Also in attendance at the forum were Loudoun County Chairman Scott K. York (R-At large), Supervisors Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) and Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling), and Koran T. Saines, the Democratic nominee this year for the Sterling District supervisor's seat.

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