Fairfax Heroin Ring Was Not Deterred By a Friend's Death
Sunday, November 23, 2008
The fourth time 19-year-old Alicia Lannes overdosed on heroin, she was text messaging her boyfriend from inside her family's Centreville home. When the boyfriend, Skylar Schnippel, realized Lannes was in trouble, he didn't call her parents or 911. He dialed some buddies and asked them to check on her, said her father, Greg Lannes.
Schnippel's friends crept to the family's windows about 4 a.m. March 5 and saw that Alicia was unconscious. They went to a pay phone and made an anonymous call to 911. At 5 a.m., Greg Lannes said, he was awakened by paramedics pounding on the door.
"We found my daughter lying next to her bed," Lannes said. "She had passed away. She had gone through a lot in her little life."
Alicia Lannes's death was one of 18 related to heroin in Fairfax County this year, many involving people between 18 and 24 years old, and it prompted a joint police and FBI investigation into how the hard-core drug has permeated the wealthy suburb and killed young users. Last week, federal authorities charged 10 men and women -- most either 19 or 20 -- with distributing heroin in the Centreville area. Schnippel was charged with providing the dose that killed Lannes.
"Regardless of why kids do it," Greg Lannes said, "it's prevalent around the area, and it needs to be closed down."
The investigation has revealed a web of heroin sales and use among a tightknit group of former and current students of Westfield High School in western Fairfax -- a symptom of a larger heroin problem that had gone undetected, law enforcement officials say. Officials said the growing availability of heroin, long considered a serious drug linked to addiction and death, has fueled its popularity and made it the drug of choice for many Washington area youths.
Numerous current and former Westfield students, including friends of those who were arrested last week, said in interviews that the high school is not a haven for drug users and that heroin use was limited to a small circle of friends. But, they said, the drug slowly gripped an expanding network of people after it was introduced sometime in 2005.
They said many of those charged began using and selling marijuana while skateboarding in middle school, then escalated to ecstasy, prescription painkillers, psychedelic mushrooms and heroin.
"Watching my friends go through all of this was eerily similar to watching one of those anti-drug videos in health class," said one Westfield graduate who was close to several of those in the drug ring and who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid trouble at college. "I literally cried when my dad e-mailed me the news. . . . It's heartbreaking to see people you grew up with ruin their own lives and, sadly, take another's life."
It was a series of overdoses, and particularly Lannes's death, that caught the attention of federal law enforcement officials. They wanted to direct public attention to a killer that seemed to be hiding in plain sight, officials said.
The 10 charged include a 33-year-old District dealer who allegedly was supplying the ring and nine young adults from Fairfax who are charged with regularly buying, selling and using large amounts of heroin.
"Heroin attracted our attention because young people were dying," said a law enforcement official familiar with the case. "These were bright, articulate people who had promising futures and went down this road."