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Crime spree suspect back in contact with former gang, family member says

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A young mother accused of two bank robberies and a carjacking in Northern Virginia over the past week was mingling with gang members and living an itinerant existence, moving from hotel room to hotel room before the crime spree, according to a family member.

Stephanie Lynn Schwab, 26, of Manassas had slept at the family member’s Front Royal home two nights before she allegedly walked into a Commerce Bank in Manassas on Friday, implied she had a gun and demanded money.

John Montero said that Schwab was troubled but that there was no indication during her stay of what police allege happened next.

“She was perfectly normal,” said Montero, who is the husband of Schwab’s cousin. “She had boyfriends in and out. She was casual.”

Police on Wednesday evening continued their search for Schwab, who they think has acted alone in the string of crimes. The mother of two is a former member of the MS-13 gang and provided key testimony in the high-profile 2005 capital murder trial of four gang members accused of killing a pregnant 17-year-old government informant. Two were found guilty.

A day after the Manassas bank robbery, Fairfax County police said that Schwab approached a woman in the Tysons Corner II parking lot claiming she was a student. She said she had run out of gas and needed a ride to a gas station, they said.

The 59-year-old victim invited Schwab into her car, but as she drove toward Route 123 Schwab allegedly pulled a knife on her and told her to get out of the car, police said. Schwab drove off in the 2003 silver Acura, police said. The woman was not injured.

The car, which has Virginia tags XEK8095, has not been recovered.

Fairfax police said they think Schwab entered a BB&T bank in the 8400 block of Old Keene Mill Road in the West Springfield area on Tuesday afternoon, suggested she had a weapon and demanded money from a teller. She left with an undisclosed sum of cash, they said.

In the 2005 murder trial, Schwab testified about her five-year involvement in MS-13. She described how she ran away from home at 12, joined the gang at 13 and became pregnant by a fellow gang member at 15. She said the gang provided the stability her family did not.

“I loved it,” Schwab, then 19, said on the stand. “It was like an obsession.”

Schwab also testified that gang members begged for money and used the cash for drugs, alcohol and motel rooms.

Montero said that Schwab was once again associating with MS-13 members but that he thought they were unaware of her testimony in the murder trial. He said Schwab’s mother had been taking care of Schwab’s children for some time.

Helen Schwab declined to comment when reached by The Washington Post but told WRC (Channel 4) that she was worried for her daughter.

“The only thing I know is she needs help and she needs a psychiatrist,” Helen Schwab said in a videotaped interview. “I just want to say, Stephanie, I love you and please turn yourself in. And no matter what happens, I’ll stand by your side. Please think about the kids, and me and yourself.”

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