Three Killings Shatter Calm That Loudoun Usually Enjoys

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 15, 2006

While Loudoun County has boomed in population and wealth this decade, it has kept a lid on one key statistic: the homicide rate. For nearly 9 1/2 months this year, there were no killings in the county. Last year, there were two.

But a burst of gunshots at a busy Sterling Park strip mall left three people dead late Friday in what authorities described as a double murder and a suicide that may have been sparked by a lovers' quarrel.

The killings occurred about 10:45 p.m. in a parking lot outside the Safeway at Sterling Plaza on South Sterling Boulevard. Alexander Enrique Rivera-Moreno, 22, of Sterling shot Claudia Vanessa Ayala-Duron, 22, also of Sterling, in front of the grocery store and Christopher Lee Beech, 24, of Ashburn during a chase across the lot, according to sheriff's office spokesman Kraig Troxell.

Rivera-Moreno then shot himself, Troxell said.

It was unclear whether the three had argued beforehand or where the deadly altercation began. Authorities said they believe there had been a romantic relationship between Rivera-Moreno and Ayala-Duron but said they did not know whether the two had broken it off. Loudoun County Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson said Rivera-Moreno may have been waiting for Ayala-Duron and Beech at the shopping center.

Deputies at the scene found the bodies of a man and a woman a few hundred feet from Safeway's entrance, Simpson said, and another man's body was found near a dumpster behind the store.

Late Friday, two bodies were in view as deputies swarmed the lot and searched for evidence. Passersby strained to look at the gruesome scene walled off by deputies and crime scene tape.

Friday night's violence was rare for the affluent, fast-growing county, which has a population of more than 250,000. On average, Loudoun has one or two homicides a year.

But authorities say population growth and demographic shifts in eastern Loudoun may be fueling a rise in serious violent crime. Three months ago, a gang-related drive-by shooting in Sterling critically injured one man and damaged several homes. That shooting occurred a few miles from Sterling Plaza. Authorities, residents and business owners said the strip mall, which has about two dozen stores, has recently been the scene of several violent incidents, including a number of scuffles at a restaurant that some believe is a hangout for members of the Latino gang MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha.

Friday night's shootings were not believed to be gang-related.

Simpson said he has increased patrols in Sterling Park in recent months while members of the county's gang unit have focused on violence near the county's eastern border with Fairfax. But he acknowledged that it has been difficult to keep pace.

"With growth, you're going to have more and more problems. Crime is going to increase, and to deal with that, you need resources," Simpson said. "Right now, we just don't have enough."

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