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Deadly Morning in Mount Vernon

After years in prison, Edward Agurs’ return to crime ends in his death at the hands of police.

Before he left the house on Wednesday morning, Dec. 13, Edward Agurs Jr. walked into his sister’s bedroom. “I appreciate all that you have done for me. I love you and I want you to know that nothing you have done for me has gone in vain,” the 39-year Agurs said, according to his sister Brenda Agurs.

The siblings’ parents are both deceased. After their mother died in 1999, Brenda Agurs said, she took it upon herself to guide her brother, who was serving time in prison. She would call him and send him verses from the Bible. In 2004, after he was released from his second stint in prison on charges of robbing a cab driver, she took him into her home in the Janna Lee area. She watched her brother get a job and connect with his three-year old son.

“I love you too,” Brenda Agurs told her brother on Wednesday morning. “I got your back and I will always have your back.”

“I love you more,” he told her.

“If I had to do it all over again, I would have your back again,” Brenda replied.

Her brother left her room, and she heard him close the front door. She was in the bathroom when he came back in. “He said, ‘Did you hear what I said?’ and I said, ‘Yes Junior, I heard you. You said you loved me.”

He said, “No, I mean I really love you.” Then he left for the second time, Agurs said.

“I did not know that my brother was saying goodbye to me.”

Later in the morning, Edward Agurs was walking north on Richmond Highway, between Mount Vernon Plaza and a Honda Dealership a few blocks away. There is no sidewalk on this part of the highway. A narrow median divides the highway from an access road that runs past a gas station, a pawn shop and businesses selling mattresses, hubcaps and carpets.

In his black backpack, Agurs was carrying two box-cutters and a stack of cash that Fairfax County Police say he had just stolen from the Mount Vernon Plaza Wachovia. According to the police, Agurs walked inside the bank just before 10 a.m. and passed a note to the teller, who gave him an undisclosed amount of money. The police responded quickly. “There were a lot of extra officers in the area,” said Officer Camille Neville, a police spokeswoman. Before Christmas every year, Fairfax police gather for “Santa’s Ride,” to deliver donated toys to children in Inova Mount Vernon Hospital. The ride had been scheduled for that Wednesday morning.

<B>LESS THAN FIVE MINUTES</B> after the robbery, an officer spotted Agurs as he walked beside the highway, according to police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings. The officer approached him, asked if they could talk, then told Agurs that because he matched the description of the robbery suspect, the officer needed to handcuff him. Agurs resisted. He pushed the officer away, then ran towards the parking lot of neighboring Honda, Volvo and Subaru dealerships.

The parking lot is bounded by an eight-foot brick wall topped with barbed wire. When Agurs reached the wall, he jumped on a parked car, then climbed over the brick and barbed wire, dropping into the property of the Mount Vernon Gardens apartments on the other side. The officer did not follow him, Jennings said, because he did not know whether Agurs was armed and whether he would set up an ambush on the blind side of the wall. “Our officers want to go home at night. So they’re trained to think that way and trained to think before they just charge in,” Jennings said.

Mount Vernon Gardens sits on Fordson Road. Another police cruiser happened to be on Fordson, and the officer in it reported that no one had emerged onto the street. They surmised that he must be hiding in one of the two apartment buildings on the property.

Porter Lindsey lives across the street from Mount Vernon Gardens. He said he was taking out his trash when he saw two police cars pull up in front of the building. “Then all of a sudden they just came swarming in, one right after the other.” Lindsey said he spent the next two hours watching the search unfold. He said he saw at least 20 police officers and easily a dozen vehicles: trucks, jeeps, unmarked cars with their lights flashing, Sheriff’s department vehicles and motorcycles.

Lindsay watched the officers establish a perimeter around the building. On the north side of the building, one officer climbed a tree, another stayed on the ground and a third positioned himself behind a brick wall. A group of plainclothes officers huddled outside the apartment office on the west side of the building, which faces the road. A group of uniformed officers gathered around the main door on the south side of the building with their guns drawn. He estimated that about an hour and half passed with the officers stationed outside the building in this way.

Neville said the officers had to thoroughly search both buildings, and warn all residents to stay inside. Jennings said the police followed standard procedures of establishing a perimeter and a command center, probably under the control of a commander from the Mount Vernon Station. She did not know how long the police spent searching for the subject, gathering forces and collecting information.

“Once there were enough officers on scene with the background and training that we needed, then they opted to go in and find him.”

<B>WHEN THEY DID</B>, Lindsey said, it happened fast. He saw the plainclothes police officers say something to a woman in the apartment office. She slammed her door. “All of a sudden the cops that were at the office door, all the unmarked policemen, they just started running, they ran up the steps and just walked right in.” It “was not very long” before he heard shots fired from inside the building. He could not tell how many. He saw one officer emerge from the building, walk to a vehicle and wash his hands with a bottle of water.

Jennings said that while searching one apartment building, officers noticed a door under a set of stairs. In the other building, 7417 Fordson Road, the door was missing, revealing a dark crawl space about four feet high. They suspected this was where Agurs was hiding. To investigate, they called in a K9 unit. The handler announced he was sending in a dog, got no response, and released it. “The dog is trained to notify the handler that he’s found something,” Jennings said. “He’s not trained to blast at him at that point. He’s got to get a command for that.”

After a moment, the dog emerged and signaled he had found something. The officers ordered Agurs out of the dark space. But he stayed. The handler sent the dog in again. This time, they heard the dog crying out in pain. His handler peered inside and saw Agurs twisting its legs. Recognizing that his dog was in danger, the handler entered the crawlspace, followed by a detective. “There was space for all three of them,” Jennings said, “but it had to be fairly tight.”

Unable to stand erect, the officers ordered Agurs to release the dog and raise his hands. He refused, and one officer sprayed him with pepper spray. It seemed to have no effect. Then Agurs reached into his backpack.

The detective made the decision to shoot.

Brenda Agurs said she was told by the police that the first shot hit her brother in the face. Another hit him in the knee or upper calf. When Agurs kept moving, the detective shot three more times, hitting him once in the elbow and twice in the chest. After the fifth shot, Neville said, the police attempted CPR. A rescue squad arrived and transported Agurs to Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

From outside, Lindsay saw the ambulance and firetrucks arrive. He said he saw firemen bring out Agur’s body in an orange body bag. Policemen blocked off both ends of Fordson Road and began stringing yellow tape from the trees around the apartment building.

“<B>WE JUST NEED TO KNOW WHY</B>,” Brenda Agurs said, speaking for herself and her sister. “We just want to know why the five shots. Why couldn’t somebody just pull him out of there after the mace, after the dog, after being shot in the face?”

“If one use of force isn’t working, we’re always going to go up the level of force until we gain control or until we come to an end of the situation,” Neville said. “You can’t be using pepper spray on someone you think is pulling a weapon out of a bag. If you’re going to be going home every night, you need to make that split second decision.”

Jennings said it was police policy not to release the name of the officer who fired the shots, unless he is charged with a crime. The officer, who the police identified as being 50-years-old and a 27-year veteran of the Fairfax County Police Department, has been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.

In addition to the robbery that morning, the police identified Agurs as the man responsible for the Dec. 1 robbery of a Bank of America at 6812 Richmond Highway and the Dec. 6 robbery of a Wachovia at 6300 Richmond Highway. Agurs did not display a weapon in any of the robberies, and always carried the black backpack.

Brenda Agurs said she accepts that her brother committed the robberies and broke the law. She said she did not condone his actions. But she said her brother’s crimes should not have resulted in his death. “It’s crazy. It’s absolutely crazy.”

“My brother has had his bad shares of life. But my brother grew up in a Christian home,” Brenda Agurs said. Their father was a minister. She estimated that her brother spent a decade in prison in the 1990s through 2002. When he was released, he went to live in Woodbridge. He found an apartment and a job, and had a son. “He was doing good.” But one day, while shopping in a grocery store, he was approached by a police officer because he met the description of a man who had robbed a taxi driver. He spent two years in jail for that crime, although Brenda Agurs believes he was innocent of it.

She said the time her brother served in prison made it hard for him to adjust to life outside. “My brother tried to do right. But every time he went somewhere, every time something came up, he always got those eyes watching him. Someone was always looking at him funny.”

“Society doesn’t let you forget your past,” she said later. “They’re always going to throw it up in your face.”

After being released from prison in 2004, Brenda Agurs said Edward Agurs found a job doing auto detailing, then another at the Salvation Army store on Little River Turnpike.

“My brother, my brother could sing, oh God could he sing.” She said she had been listening to a tape of him that morning. One of the gospel groups he formed will sing at his funeral. “And his son was the apple of his eye. He loved that little boy,” Agurs added.

“My brother had a gift to minister to people,” she said. “He understood his wrong-doing in his life.”