Another murder rampage that will stain a community

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 13, 2011; 10:09 PM

They are holding their breath each morning before opening up the paper, turning on the TV or clicking on their e-mail.

"Not another one, not another one," all of Prince George's County is thinking each morning.

Then shoulders sag, heads shake.

Yes, another one.

There have been 13 homicides in Prince George's the first 13 days of the year.

While the nation is focusing on the horrific rampage that left six people dead in Arizona, our own community is stunned that 13 funerals are being planned, one right after the other.

In Arizona, we are picking apart the inner life of one suspected killer. In Prince George's, police working back-to-back, 24-hour shifts are looking for at least 12. (There's a chance the two people who had their mouths sealed with duct tape were targeted by the same killer.)

It's a staggering death toll for a county that has been surfing the Washington region's crime-decline trend for the past few years.

"Just last year, we had a 30-year low," said a heartsick Arthur Turner, a community activist who has spent decades building up the county's profile and business portfolio.

"With the flip of a calendar, it changed. What happened?" he asked, bemoaning the stunning U-turn his county has taken.

January was once busy for cops. In 2005, the county had 18 homicides in the first month. But that's changed. Last January, there were five killings for the entire month, and such low levels of deadly violence are what residents have come to expect, rightfully so.

The police department is reeling and overwhelmed. In the past two days, it received an infusion of dozens of federal agents from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said Maj. Andy Ellis, commander of the Prince George's County Police Department and a 21-year veteran of the force.

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