The incidents left six people injured and sent fear rippling through a county that rarely sees such violence. No arrests have been made.
Fairfax County police have said the shootings are the product of gang violence and linked the strip mall shooting to Midieast Studios, a mall tenant that is one of the area’s most popular recording spots for local rappers like Fat Trel and has hosted major hip-hop stars like the Game and the now deceased Nipsey Hussle.
But police, citing policy, have not said what gangs they think are involved. That lack of specifics and connecting the shootings to the studio has prompted anger and skepticism from some black residents in the area. The studio’s manager said he knew of no links to violence.
At a heated meeting on Tuesday in Gum Springs, Fairfax County’s oldest African American community, residents and the head of the county chapter of the NAACP sharply questioned police representations of the shootings.
Fairfax County police chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. rose at one point to give a rundown of what police know about the shootings before a packed community center. “We know for a fact that this is gang-on-gang violence,” Roessler said.
A woman then shouted over Roessler, “What gang?” When he continued, the woman yelled, “Fearmonger!”
Other speakers also disputed the idea that gangs were involved in the shootings, saying they were unaware of any gangs in the area and accusing police of erroneously labeling people in the black community as gang members for years.
Roessler, citing a department policy of not giving gangs publicity, declined to name the gangs police believed are involved in the violence. In recent years, much of the gang activity in Fairfax County has been tied to MS-13, but they are not believed to be the culprits in this case.
Roessler pleaded for the community’s help in solving the crimes.
“We have recovered a lot of evidence, but no one is talking to us to help us bring the suspects who employed deadly force in our community to justice,” Roessler said.
Three days earlier, at another community meeting on the shootings in Rose Hill, a largely white section of the county, residents expressed differing sentiments. Speakers called for the county to take action against Midieast, saying it was a source of drugs and drew people from “out of our area.” Roessler said county agencies would be looking at the studio for possible code violations.
Fairfax County police said they linked the strip mall shootings to Midieast Studios because people involved had frequented the studio. Wilfredo Torres, the studio manager, said he did not know the people involved in the shooting and they did not have an appointment to record there on the day of the shooting.
He likens the calls to take action against the studio to racial profiling.
“We are taking the heat over it because we are black and most of our clients are black,” Torres said. “I look at us like a YMCA. We are keeping people off the streets.”
Torres pointed out he had worked with police, handing over surveillance footage of the shooting captured by Midieast’s cameras.
He said Midieast has been around for 14 years. The studio is open all night, when many rappers do their recording. Torres said the studio has given back to the community, offering free studio time to kids.
In February, two men were arrested and charged with shooting at the Midieast studio. Torres said he shared surveillance video with police during that incident as well.
In 2011, police discovered a pistol and marijuana after serving a search warrant on the business, according to Patch. Police applied for the search warrant after an informant was able to purchase marijuana at the address listed for the studio.
The first of the recent shootings occurred at the Gum Springs playground in the 3000 block of Fordson Court around 11:10 on July 1, police said. Two Mount Vernon High School students suffered non-life threatening injuries, and were treated and released from the hospital.
Around 4 p.m. on July 2, the masked men exited a Mitsubishi and opened fire on occupants of a Toyota parked in front of the strip mall in the 6400 block of Telegraph Road where Midieast Studios is located. The targets returned fire.
One of the targets who was shot jumped out of the Toyota, before both cars drove off. The other occupants of the Toyota drove about two miles away, before calling 911 to get help for the injured.
Torres also said he rushed out of the studio soon after the shooting occurred. He said the victim that had fled the Toyota had been shot in the back and a driver had stopped to offer care.
All three of the victims were from the Toyota. Police said they were treated for non-life threatening injuries and released.
Police found the Mitsubishi abandoned that night.
Late on July 3, a man was grazed by a bullet during a shooting at the playground in Gum Springs, police said. The man refused treatment for the wound. Police said they were looking for a white SUV with dark tinted windows that had three people, described only as black men, inside.
In addition, police said they are exploring whether two shootings in Alexandria on June 30 and July 8 are related to the Fairfax County incidents. Those shootings — in the 1400 block of Princess Street and the 100 block of North Pickett Street, respectively — did not injure anyone.
At the Gum Springs meeting on Tuesday, Kofi Annan, the president of the Fairfax County NAACP, said he appreciated county leaders meeting with him, but he said they needed to continue to listen to what the community was telling them about issues in their relationship with police. He said it was hard to believe police without them providing more evidence gangs were involved.
“How we go about over the next couple days and couple weeks is really going to determine if these incidents are going to be something that pulls us together or rips us apart,” Annan said.