Elias Mejia, the owner of Platanillos Grocery and Jewelry, said the women were Salvadoran immigrants and loving mothers who came to the United States seeking better work opportunities to support their families. They shared an apartment not far from the store, Mejia said.
“They are good, good people, good workers,” Mejia said, stifling sobs in a telephone interview Saturday. “I don’t care about the property. [The assailants] can steal anything and everything. But I love these people. Good people, hardworking people. They come to America to work.”
Police initially said they suspected that robbery might have motivated the attack, which occurred about 9 p.m. Friday at the store on Jefferson Davis Highway, but they backed off that account Saturday, saying they did not yet suspect a motive firmly. Officer Jonathan Perok, a Prince William County police spokesman, said investigators are looking into the possibility that the incident was a robbery gone awry but noted that the three assailants were in the store “15 seconds, tops,” and left with nothing.
“Since nothing was taken and the guys were in there so quick, we don’t know if it was a targeted thing or if it was a robbery,” Perok said.
Police released a surveillance video of the attackers entering and leaving the store. The video shows the three males dressed in dark, hooded sweatshirts and wearing some type of cover over their faces making their way quickly past shelves filled with flowers and snack foods. They leave through the same door they came in.
Perok said it was unclear how many of the men were armed and how many fired shots.
Police said in a news release that a customer was inside the store at the time but was not hurt. Mejia said a third employee also was there but rushed out through the store’s back door as the gunfire erupted.
Mejia said that Coca-Romero had worked at the store for a little more than a year and the other woman for perhaps five years. The pair shared an apartment nearby to save money and were not relatives, Mejia said. Mejia said he thought that many of the women’s relatives are in El Salvador.
Mejia said the 42-year-old, who has a son and a daughter, previously had worked at a bank in El Salvador, and he was thrilled that someone with her experience had come to work at his shop in Woodbridge.
He said that Coca-Romero, too, was a diligent employee and also had a daughter, who is only a few months from her first birthday.
Neither employee seemed to have any domestic troubles or enemies — at least none visible at their workplace, Mejia said.
“The intention was probably going just to rob the place, but maybe they get so scared or whatever and they start shooting immediately. I just, I don’t know,” Mejia said.
“They didn’t take anything. They just looked like they came in there and start shooting. Why?”
The homicide was Prince William County’s first of the year.
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