Apparent Gang Initiation Disrupted
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
A teacher who heard a commotion inside a bathroom at a Fairfax County high school ducked inside and apparently broke up a gang initiation ceremony among five teenagers, the latest of several recent inductions, police said yesterday.
Police and schools officials declined to specify exactly what was happening in the bathroom at Hayfield Secondary School in the Kingstowne area. But on Thursday afternoon, police believe, four teenage members of an unidentified gang were initiating another teenager, who suffered "very minor injuries," Fairfax Lt. Richard J. Perez said.
Fairfax gang detectives began investigating and determined that seven other teenagers had also voluntarily undergone gang initiations in previous days, all at the hands of four members of what a school spokesman described as a "start-up gang."
Police charged two 17-year-old boys, one 16-year-old boy and one 16-year-old girl with felony charges of gang recruiting on school grounds and gang participation, and a misdemeanor charge of hazing. Those charged were Hayfield students, Fairfax schools spokesman Paul Regnier said, as were those seeking membership in the gang.
Regnier and Perez said this was the first time they'd heard of an initiation being conducted in a Fairfax school.
Although police declined to describe the initiations to protect the ongoing investigation, they said that gang initiations typically involve being "jumped in" -- a short beating from a group of gang members -- or "sexed in" -- in which a female is required to have sex with one or more gang members. No assault- or sex-related charges were filed in the Hayfield episodes because the acts were voluntary on both sides, Perez said. No weapons were involved.
Perez said those involved in the Hayfield gang activity were from a variety of races and ethnicities: Latino, African American, Middle Eastern and Caucasian. He said that although many gangs are stereotyped as being of a particular racial group, gangs often are multiracial.
"There is no one gang that is 100 percent one race," said Fairfax police officer Eddy Azcarate, a former gang investigator. He said that gang experts estimated there were 2,000 to 3,000 gang members in the county, mostly ages 12 to 24, but that the number is fluid.
Parents of Hayfield students said that they were surprised to learn of last week's arrests and that there had been virtually no signs of gang activity at the school of 2,300 students, which has grades 7 through 12. All of those involved in the incidents were high school students. The gang applicants were four females and four males, ages 15 to 17, police said, and none was pressured to undergo the initiations.
"It's such a placid school," said Dick Reed, head of the PTSA's Academic Boosters Committee. The principal, William Oehrlein, "is just excellent, and he's good at keeping the community aware of what's going on."
In an e-mail to parents, Oehrlein wrote that "this appears to have been an isolated incident which was very quickly detected by school staff. The students who did willingly participate in these apparent hazing rituals put themselves in compromising situations. Fortunately, no serious physical injuries resulted."
Eileen Shropshire, whose son Robert is a junior at the school, at 7630 Telegraph Rd., said she volunteers in the school frequently and hasn't heard about any gang-related problems on campus. "This seems out of the blue," Shropshire said. "It sounds like something they might have seen on TV."
Shropshire said she was pleased that school and police officials acted quickly. "It sounds like they are trying to nip it in the bud," she said. "The have to take care of it right away so they don't get a foothold in."
"This was not a preexisting gang; this was a start-up," Regnier said. "We look for signs of gang activity, clothes or gang signs, then jump on it right away. In this case, there wasn't those things."
Fairfax police work closely with school officials and have a full-time officer in every high school to monitor gang activity. "They help us keep track of what to look for," Regnier said. "Given the fact that there are gangs in Fairfax County, I think we've been fairly successful in keeping them out of schools."
Robert A. Bermingham Jr., the coordinator of Fairfax's Gang Prevention Council, said the students involved on both sides of the case will be assisted by the county's variety of social, mental and recreational services, which Bermingham's council gathers together to determine how best to treat a gang aspirant.
But the county is also about to introduce a 24-hour gang resource line, Bermingham said, to be staffed by social workers who are knowledgeable in the options available to at-risk youths. "It'll be unique around the region" to help with everything from gangs to housing problems, Bermingham said, and should be available by early June.