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Fatal shooting of Fairfax County teens began with a challenge to fight, prosecutor says

The encounter leading to the fatal shootings of two Fairfax County high school students began when one of the victims got a provocative invitation: to fight at a Springfield home, a prosecutor said in court Wednesday.

A friend of Zachary Burkard, 18, of Springfield, sent the invite, the prosecutor said. When four males arrived at the home Sunday afternoon, a fistfight broke out between Burkard’s friend and one of the teenage victims in an upstairs room, the prosecutor said.

Burkard went upstairs and opened fire, hitting two of the four males who came to the home on Winding Way Court, the prosecutor said witnesses told authorities. One teen died at the scene, while another staggered away and later died at a hospital. Burkard was charged with two counts of murder and firearms charges. Both Burkard and the victims attended South County High School in Lorton.

In arguing against bond for Burkard, Fairfax County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Amelia Nemitz said investigators had found evidence that Burkard had wanted to harm one of the victims for some time.

“The defendant presents a clear danger to the community,” Nemitz said.

Burkard has told investigators and a magistrate a different story — that he came upon the four males beating his friend to the point where the friend was losing consciousness and he opened fire to save the friend’s life, Nemitz told the judge. Nemitz said that account is not accurate.

Fairfax County Public Defender Amy Jordan said at the hearing that Burkard was a senior at South County High School in Lorton and had no criminal record. He was to graduate in about a month.

“He has a trauma background. Because of that he is being seen by behavioral health [at the jail],” Jordan told the judge. “A mental health evaluation should be ordered for him.”

Fairfax County juvenile court Judge Melinda L. VanLowe agreed to the mental health evaluation but denied bond for Burkard, saying she was concerned his family would not be able to have anyone home during the day to supervise him. Burkard is being held in the Fairfax County jail.

Nemitz said the shooting was carried out with a “ghost gun,” a gun that is cobbled together from parts purchased on the Internet and elsewhere. Such guns have no serial numbers to trace, and users don’t have to go through a background check before purchasing the parts.

Ghost guns have been used in an increasing number of crimes in recent years. Nemitz said Fairfax County police recovered a second ghost gun and a shotgun that belonged to Burkard in searches of the home where the shooting occurred and of Burkard’s home.

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Nemitz asked VanLowe whether she could play a couple of videos from the social media app Snapchat in court, but VanLowe denied the request, saying prosecutors had not sufficiently authenticated them. Nemitz said one depicted Burkard with the alleged murder weapon and making reference to one of the victims.

Fairfax County police have not identified the slain teens because of a Virginia law that bars officials from directly or indirectly identifying juvenile victims of crime without their parents’ consent. Police said neither family has given that consent. Prosecutors referred to the victims by their initials in court.

The Washington Post was able to identify the teens by other means. The family of one of the teens told The Post they were considering an interview request but had not responded as of Wednesday evening. The family of the other teen could not be reached for comment.

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