Fairfax Mason District Supervisor Penelope Gross (D) fields questions at a community meeting about the recent spate of gang-related violence in Fairfax County. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Cooper Jessup summed up what many residents appeared to be wondering after hearing about three dead bodies found in Fairfax County in recent weeks, plus a surge of other violent crimes linked to increased gang activity in Virginia’s largest jurisdiction.

“Which high schools are safe right now?” Cooper, of the Mantua community, asked police Wednesday night at a town hall meeting in Annandale, which was attended by about 200 residents, county officials and community organizers.

“Where are we okay? Where are we not okay?”

The answer has been frustratingly elusive as the county of 1.1 million residents wrestles with what experts say is a drive for a greater presence in the United States by leaders of the Central American gang known as Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.

Police have tied the slaying of 15-year-old Damaris Alexandra Reyes Rivas — whose remains were found in February in a Springfield industrial park — to MS-13.

Maj. Richard Perez of the Fairfax County Police, center, follows up on a answer from a panel that was addressing the recent spate of gang-related violence in Fairfax County. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Investigators have yet to determine who is behind the apparent homicides of two more people found earlier this month in Holmes Run Stream Valley Park, a sprawling recreational area in Fairfax’s Lincolnia section where two other bodies were discovered in 2014 in what were MS-13 related killings.

Local residents say they’re worried that calm neighborhoods in one of the nation’s wealthiest jurisdictions are becoming breeding grounds for violence in what police describe as a spike in gang recruitment in Fairfax schools the past year.

“Shouldn’t we be concerned about this?” said Marita Elsts, who lives near Holmes Run park and described groups of teenagers regularly entering the area during school hours. “That they’re going down there in the middle of the afternoon, where, yes, they could end up getting killed or hurt?”

Fairfax Police Capt. Paul Cleveland, who oversees the county’s gang task force, offered assurances but few answers to counter worries that gang violence is increasing.

“You’re in a safe jurisdiction,” he told the crowd.

The meeting was the latest effort by the county government to deal with violence and MS-13 recruitment, which police say stems in part from the arrival of unaccompanied minors from Central America, many of whom are fleeing gangs themselves.

Gangs had not been a major concern in Fairfax for several years, after a surge in activity about a decade ago prompted the creation of gang-prevention programs in the school system and then-Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Fairfax) helped secure funding for a Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force.

At a Public Safety Committee hearing last week, the County Board of Supervisors again discussed beefing up gang-prevention programs, which could be challenging given a tepid local economy that has made it harder for Fairfax to fund schools, parks and other services.

Residents at Wednesday’s town hall, hosted by Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason), seemed to have largely been insulated from the gang problem in their everyday lives.

Several gasped when a police detective revealed that there are 35 active gangs in Fairfax, six of which are connected to national or international organizations, including MS-13 and the Los Angeles-based Crips gang.

That made the meeting a primer of sorts on what gangs are and what their members look like in 2017.

Fairfax Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. said most of the recruiting occurs through social media. Many gang members no longer sport tattoos, he said, or use graffiti to mark territory. The lack of those telltale signs make it more important for parents to be vigilant about potential problems with their children, Roessler said.

“We need to be looking over the shoulders of our children,” Roessler said. “Especially our middle-school kids. We need to snoop.”

Since 2014, 3,925 unaccompanied minors have been placed in the custody of relatives in Fairfax County, more than any other jurisdiction in the Washington region, according to federal statistics.

Some at the meeting asked about immigration enforcement efforts and whether Fairfax County police cooperates with federal officials seeking to deport dangerous criminals.

The answer from police officials was yes.

But community activists who work with troubled teens cautioned residents against confusing the problem of gang violence with the broader issue of immigration. Edgar Aranda-Yanoc, a community organizer with Legal Aid Justice Center, said focusing on unaccompanied minors as potential troublemakers could backfire.

“If the kids are not feeling welcome, then they are going to be more vulnerable” to recruitment efforts, Aranda-Yanoc said. “We need to embrace them.”

Gross, whose district includes Holmes Run Park, said she plans to work on ways to make it harder for gangs to meet, such as adding more lights or increasing police bike patrols on park trails.

But in a suburban community that treasures the solitude of its green space, she said, dealing with the gang issue without turning away other residents “will be a delicate balance.”

Deputy County Executive David Rohrer argued that it’s important for the county to deal with problems without succumbing to fear.

“At the end of the day, if you’re afraid to go to the grocery store, to walk to the park or to let your children play there, then we have lost,” Rohrer said.