Local Arrests in Newark Slayings

Authorities stormed an Oxon Hill apartment where they said they found 10 males drinking and getting tattooed.
Authorities stormed an Oxon Hill apartment where they said they found 10 males drinking and getting tattooed. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Daniela Deane and Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 19, 2007

A key suspect in the brutal killings of three college students in Newark was arrested early yesterday in Oxon Hill, where authorities found the 24-year-old Nicaraguan man among a group drinking beer and getting tattooed in a filthy apartment furnished with little more than mattresses on the floor.

Twenty minutes later, police arrested his 16-year-old half brother in the basement of a Woodbridge townhouse as the intense manhunt in the execution-style killings moved to the Washington immigrant community, authorities said.

Authorities said the suspects -- Rodolfo Godinez and the teenager, who is not being identified because he is to be charged as a juvenile -- were arrested on fugitive warrants for their involvement in the grisly Aug. 4 killings.

Godinez is believed to be a ringleader in the killings that shocked Newark and the rest of the nation with their incomprehensible brutality, authorities said. Police have said the students were forced to kneel against a wall behind an elementary school before being shot in the head. Cellphones and jewelry were taken from them, and two were slashed in the face with either a knife or a machete.

Although authorities in New Jersey have said they have found no gang link to the killings, a witness to Godinez's arrest said the man talked about being in MS-13, a notorious gang with roots in El Salvador that operates in a handful of metropolitan areas across the United States, including the Washington region. And law enforcement sources in the Washington area said they believe there is a possibility of gang involvement in the killings.

The men are wanted in connection with the killings of Terrance Aeriel, 18, and Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower, both 20. Aeriel's sister, Natasha, 19, was shot in the head in the attack but survived. The Aeriels and Harvey were students at Delaware State University, and Hightower planned to enroll there this fall.

Godinez was arrested at Riverside Plaza apartments on Oxon Hill Road by about a dozen officers from federal, state and local agencies, said Robert Fernandez, commander of the Capital Area Regional Fugitive Task Force, who participated in the arrest.

Fernandez said 10 Hispanic males were in the three-bedroom, two-bath apartment when officers stormed in, guns drawn. He said the apartment had almost no furniture besides a "torn-up couch, a small TV on a milk crate and a bunch of mattresses on the floor." He said the apartment, which he described as dirty with clothes thrown everywhere, looked vacant.

"There was a tattoo gun on the kitchen counter with some ink spilled around it," Fernandez said. He said that one of the men had a half-finished tattoo but that it was unclear what the men were tattooing on one another.

Neighbor Norma Douglas, who watched the raid with her daughter through her door's peephole, said some of the men whom police handcuffed and took away lived at the apartment; others she had never seen. According to Fernandez, some of the men said they were staying at the apartment temporarily while working construction jobs in the area.

A man who was in the apartment at the time of the arrest said that Godinez and a friend had shown up about 11 a.m. Thursday and that Godinez was drinking beer and tattooing some of the other men.

The man said Godinez talked about being a member of MS-13.

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