Youth Gang Reflects Shift In Origins, Membership

By Lori Aratani and Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 3, 2007

Residents along Bel Pre Road just west of Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County were complaining to police last week about youths throwing ice chunks at cars and stealing fire extinguishers. By last Saturday, police say, the group had graduated to greater violence: Three people were stabbed, two critically.

Now, 11 members of the gang, including a 12-year-old, face multiple charges, including attempted first-degree murder in a double stabbing at the Wheaton Metro Station and another knifing at an Aspen Hill apartment complex on Bel Pre Road in which a 31-year-old mentally challenged man was wounded.

Officer Robert Musser, Montgomery's top gang investigator, said yesterday that the group's membership reflects a growing trend in area gangs: They are mixed-race, loosely organized collections of youths that coalesce because they attend the same school or live in the same neighborhood. The groups often change their monikers several times, he said.

The Hot Boyz/Shoot 'Em Up gang, suspected of being involved in the stabbings Saturday, has been on investigators' radar for about 14 months, Musser said. Officers were first tipped to its existence after its graffiti began appearing in the community. Musser said there are about 18 members ranging in age from 12 to 17, most of them black.

A law enforcement source who asked not to be identified because the case is open said that although some members have been charged with crimes in the past, the stabbings are the most serious offenses to which the group has been linked.

A police source, who also asked to remain anonymous, said there may be additional arrests in connection with the Metro station assault.

Parents of four of the teenagers and an attorney for a fifth said that their boys are not troublemakers or gang members and that police are overreacting. Some said they had not been able to see or speak to the boys.

Dumisani "D.J." Tembo, 17, was standing outside the apartment complex on Bel Pre Road on Saturday with a few friends waiting to pick up another boy who lived there, said his attorney, Hope Umana.

"We're talking about a situation where there were at least 25 people," Umana said. "In any 25 people that you point to, there's a possibility that two or three people are bad people."

Umana defended Tembo, saying: "He's a good student. He participates fully in church. He comes from a God-fearing family."

Memunatu Turay, mother of 17-year-old Alansan Turay, a sophomore at Wheaton High School who is charged in both stabbings, said she didn't know why her son was out that night but thinks he was "at the wrong time at the wrong place."

"I'm a strict mother, and he's a good boy," she said.

But police said that Turay admitted stabbing the two people at the Metro station. Charging documents say that another boy, Roger Ghonda, 14, who is being charged as an adult, admitted to stabbing the mentally challenged man at the Bel Pre Road apartment complex. Ghonda's relatives could not be reached yesterday.

John Wilkins, the father of suspects Gilbert Oriji, 14, who is also being charged as an adult, and Guyton Oriji, 16, said neither of his sons is a gang member. He characterized the events outside the apartment complex as a racially motivated brawl between black and Latino youths.

Musser, the gang investigator, said that a few days before the stabbings, authorities had received word that gang members were throwing chunks of ice and stealing fire extinguishers along Bel Pre Road, not far from where some of the suspects live. He said that gang members spent the early part of Saturday evening hanging out at Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton. They later turned up at the Wheaton Metro Station.

Cathy Asato, a Metro spokeswoman, said that three male youths were walking toward the bus area of the Wheaton Metro Station when they were approached by about 15 other teens. One of the three fled; two others were stabbed multiple times.

According to charging documents, the two were stabbed in the back, and one received a severe puncture wound to a lung. Although investigators said the attack was gang-related, they would not say whether the victims had gang ties.

In charging documents, the father of one of the victims said his son knew his attackers because they hung out at a local recreation center. The father said his son had been threatened by the youths in the past.

After the incident at the Metro station, police said, members of the group went to the apartment complex in the 3700 block of Bel Pre Road. Guests at a party in one of the apartments saw an unknown male getting into a party host's white Toyota Celica. The partygoers went outside, but when one of the suspects displayed a gun, all but one of the partygoers -- the 31-year-old man -- went back inside. Officers said that several of the suspects approached the man, hit him with the gun and stabbed him multiple times. One of the stab wounds to his lung was considered life-threatening.

Police arrested six suspects Monday and five Wednesday.

Ten of the suspects, who have been charged as adults with attempted first-degree murder, armed robbery and first-degree assault in connection with the Bel Pre Road stabbing, are being held without bond. A 12-year-old who was charged as a juvenile with the same crimes was released to family members. Two of the teens, Alansan Turay and Carl Thomas, 16, are also charged in connection with the Metro station stabbings.

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