Gunfire Hits Seven Loudoun Homes

Authorities investigate gunfire that damaged several Loudoun homes and left one man seriously wounded.
Authorities investigate gunfire that damaged several Loudoun homes and left one man seriously wounded. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 20, 2006

A 47-year-old man was critically wounded while he slept early yesterday as gunmen fired as many as 30 rounds into seven homes in Loudoun County in what investigators suspect was escalating gang warfare.

The shootings lasted about 30 minutes, ending about 1:45 a.m. in the Sterling Park neighborhood, Loudoun authorities said. Other residents were in their homes, but there were no other injuries.

Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson said the shootings, which spanned an area about two miles across in a largely working-class neighborhood in eastern Loudoun, were likely gang-related.

"This is not just some random act," Simpson said. "People should not feel that they are not safe in their homes. These people were targeted for a specific reason."

Sources close to the investigation said the violence could be the outgrowth of a turf war between Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, and the 18th Street gang, rival Latino gangs with growing memberships in Northern Virginia.

Residents of Coventry Square, where three of the shootings occurred, said signs of gang activity had increased in the area. About six months ago, someone spray-painted "MS-13" on a tree and on the ground in front of the wounded man's house, said one neighbor, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Sheriff's spokesman Kraig Troxell confirmed that members of both gangs are known to be active in the neighborhood. It remained unclear whether any of the targeted residents have connections to gangs, Troxell said.

Simpson said that the sheriff's five-member gang unit has worked to rein in the increased gang activity in eastern Loudoun but that more needs to be done to cut down on gang recruitment at schools and in neighborhoods.

"This is a long-term fix that's going to take a lot of resources," Simpson said.

MS-13, a gang with roots in Los Angeles and strong ties to El Salvador, has been responsible for a spate of violence in the region, including homicides and machete attacks, authorities say. In 2004, federal authorities estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 MS-13 members were active in Northern Virginia. In recent years, gangs such as 18th Street and South Side Locos have also grown and challenged the dominance of MS-13.

Authorities said they believe that at least two weapons were used in the shootings early yesterday. Investigators found a stolen 1997 Toyota Corolla that had been set on fire about 2:30 a.m. on Route 7, near Potomac View Road, that may have been used in the shootings.

The shootings occurred two days after officials with the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force announced a 39 percent drop in serious gang crimes last year, compared with 2004. The task force covers 16 jurisdictions, including Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties.

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