A 23-year-old Afghan refugee, who survived years of fighting Soviet soldiers in his homeland and had fled to the safety of suburban Fairfax, was found shot to death early yesterday in a Lincolnia 7-Eleven where he worked nights.
The slaying is the 10th homicide in an unusually violent 2 1/2 weeks in Fairfax County, which like many Washington area communities has seen homicides this year continuing at last year's record pace.
Fairfax has had 22 homicides this year. There were a record 28 in 1989.
Montgomery County, which saw an unprecedented 21 homicides last year, has recorded 16 so far this year. Arlington, too, has experienced a steep rise in killings -- eight so far this year, compared with none last year.
In Prince George's County and the District of Columbia, homicides have soared as a result of escalating drug trafficking. The District, which had a record 434 killings last year, has had 346 this year. There have been 87 homicides in Prince George's so far this year; last year there were 123, a record.
Fairfax police say drugs are not to blame for the county's homicide rate. As in past years, most of the recent killings were related to domestic disputes, and arrests have been made in six of the eight recent cases involving 10 victims, police said.
The Fairfax victims have come from all walks of life: a brother and sister suffocated in a relative's closet, an 8-year-old beaten to death in her home, a journalist and his wife gunned down in their driveway.
Now, Mohammad Jamal Tafwiz, a veteran of war who sought peace in this country three years ago, killed in a convenience store.
"He was a freedom fighter back home. Bullets are raining there like it rains here," said Parwiz Latif, 25, a friend. "He just got out of that. He'd been in so many dangers and he survived. He came here and he just got killed. It's unbelievable."
Police have not established a motive in the death of Tafwiz, whose body was found by a customer about 3 a.m., police said. The convenience store in the 6200 block of Little River Turnpike was cordoned off with yellow police tape yesterday and a man inside said, "We have no comment for the press."
Relatives and friends, including one who worked with Tafwiz at the store, said they believe Tafwiz may have been killed by someone who wanted to purchase alcohol after midnight. They said they were told the cash register had not been opened.
The co-worker, Amruddin Sadr, said he worked some nights with Tafwiz and there often were arguments with people insisting they be allowed to buy beer or wine. Alcohol is not sold between midnight and 6 a.m., he said.
"It was scary," said Sadr, 32. "They'd steal beer in front of my face."
That Tafwiz may have been killed over something so insignificant deeply saddened the large group of friends and relatives -- many of them Afghan refugees -- who gathered yesterday at his home.
Sitting on the floor, sipping black tea, they agonized over the irony of his death. There was a doctor, a professor, a nurse -- all, like Tafwiz, hoping for a better life in America.
"He was just one of us -- a regular person, working to make a living, that's all," said Latif, a computer technician. "The person we love, the person we have such feeling for, is gone. We have some pain here -- it's hiding."
Latif said his friend began fighting the Russians in 1978 and moved to Pakistan about 1984. He moved to this country three years ago, returning to Pakistan six months ago to marry, he said.
He was working hard in Fairfax to create a new life for his bride, who remained in Pakistan, Latif said. Only hours before he was killed, Tafwiz enrolled in English classes at Northern Virginia Community College, Latif said.
"Just work and home, work and home," said his uncle, Obaid Tafwiz.
Because he worked the night shift, he earned 50 cents more than the usual $5.20 an hour, his relatives said.
Some relatives said they wish his death had come in Afghanistan, where he spent years fighting next to his brother, Iqbel Tafwiz, in the rugged mountains. At least then, they said, he would have died for a cause.
Family members said they will take his body back to Pakistan, where his wife is waiting. They have not yet given her the news, they said.
"That's the sad story," said Parwana Essar, a cousin living in Annandale. "He had a hope, a dream, that he would go back to Pakistan."
Although the outburst of violence in recent weeks is unusual, it is too soon to tell if the county will surpass last year's record, Fairfax police said.
"It's news we've had a spurt," said police spokesman William Coulter. "Just because we've had several cases in the immediate past, that is not an indicator that crime is up."
Police say the recent killings underscore the evolution of a sleepy suburb into an increasingly populous community that nearly 800,000 people call home.
"Fairfax County has evolved into an urban community," said Capt. J.J. Rzewnicki, commander of the police department's major crimes division. "But Fairfax County is probably one of the safest communities you could live in in the United States."
Staff writer Maria Koklanaris contributed to this report.