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Murder in The Meadows Scares Residents

By Bonnie Hobbs

A violent fight, an unarmed man and a neighbor with a knife led Saturday night to murder in The Meadows.

And a trail of blood from the victim's body to that neighbor's home — plus witnesses to a fight between them — led police to charge Andres Ramirez-Terraza with the murder of Vicente Lopez-Brito.

"THE GUY attacking was angry with the victim about something, but [what, specifically] will have to come out in court," said Fairfax County police spokesman Rich Henry. However, he did say that Lopez-Brito was stabbed in the "upper body" and did not have a weapon, himself. Henry also said the crime was not gang-related.

Lopez-Brito, 26, lived at 14422 Saguaro Place in The Meadows community of Centreville. Ramirez-Terraza, 22, lived at 14426 Saguaro Place.

Also injured during the incident was a 38-year-old Centreville man who, neighbors say, tried to intervene in the victim's defense. His hand was severely slashed, and he was treated at Inova Fairfax Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

Police Det. David Allen, with the Homicide Squad, gave details of what happened in an affidavit for a warrant to search Ramirez-Terraza's home for possible evidence against him. He wrote that, on Oct. 7, around 10:15 p.m., police responded to the victim's home for a report of a stabbing.

Upon their arrival, he wrote, Lopez-Brito was found "dead from apparent stab wounds" and "obviously murdered." He stated that a citizen walking his dog told police he'd observed a fight in front of 14422 Saguaro and then saw the people involved run toward 14426 Saguaro.

"Located on the top step leading to the entrance of 14426, police located the handle of a knife," wrote Allen. "Additional officers located blood near the back door of 14426 Saguaro. Police also observed the door [to this residence] partially open."

Officers then knocked on that door and, according to Allen, received permission from a resident to search the apartment. "Once inside, the officers observed blood on a wall," he wrote. "Officers located an individual indentified as Andres Ramirez in a back bedroom. [He] had blood and a laceration on the top of his left hand."

The detective wrote that another witness — who was in the victim's home at the time of the stabbing — "ran to the front door and [allegedly] observed Andres standing at [that] door with a bloody knife."

In his affidavit, Allen sought to find the murder weapon, fibers, blood, hairs, latent fingerprints, and clothing or carpeting with bodily fluids or blood. Police executed the search warrant early Sunday morning, Oct. 8, at 4:33 a.m., and seized various samples of blood, a black plastic bag and a blue-gray shirt.

In addition, police say at least two knives were found, the night of the murder, and a neighbor discovered the blade to the retrieved knife-handle, the next day.

Henry said the fight occurred outside and in the foyer of Lopez-Brito's home and that several men initially went to 14422 Saguaro and confronted some acquaintances there. They began arguing and things turned physical.

He also said the victim didn't live with family, but his relatives live nearby. Neighbors said he had a wife and children in Guatemala. Henry had no personal information about Ramirez-Terraza, except that he's unemployed.

Following his arrest, he was taken to the Adult Detention Center and held without bond. He has a preliminary-hearing date of Jan. 8.

Meanwhile, residents of this normally peaceful community off St. Germain Drive responded to the murder with a mix of shock and anger. Some said they wished they could move elsewhere; others were stunned that something so violent happened in their neighborhood.

A female neighbor of both the victim and the suspect said she moved to The Meadows in March and was home at the time of the murder. A college student at GMU, she was busy studying for an exam.

"Suddenly, I heard the sirens," she said. "I looked outside the window and saw five police cars and an ambulance. And an officer got out carrying a riot shield, so I knew it was something serious. It was very frightening."

She stayed inside her home, but watched as the man whose hand was slashed walked down the block and past her house to a waiting ambulance at the corner of Saguaro Place and Strasburg Drive. "There was a lot of blood on the sidewalk from his hand," she said.

"I'm shocked," said the woman. "Since day one, it looked like a warm neighborhood with friendly people. It's very sad; and the fact that it happened just a few units away is just scary. Cops were taking pictures Sunday morning of a bush outside the victim's house, and a neighbor said someone had dropped a blade there."

Another Saguaro Place resident, a young man in his 20s, said he, too, was surprised that something like this took place right on his block. He said he sometimes saw the victim outside his home, but didn't know him.

A man who's lived in The Meadows for seven years said it's usually quiet there and he didn't like Saturday's violence on his street. "I'm a renter," he said. "But if I owned this place, I'd put it up for sale in a heartbeat."

A man named Eddie, who's lived there for two years, expressed a similar sentiment. "It was very surprising and a little scary," he said. "I came home Saturday around midnight, and the police had blocked off the street with yellow tape."

He owns his home and recently had it up for sale, but had no success. "I just took it off the market because it wasn't selling," he said Tuesday. "Now I wish it had."

A young mother who's lived in The Meadows for nearly a decade — the past 4 1/2 years on Saguaro Place — blamed the turmoil on the displaced residents from the nearby Knolls of Newgate. These old, low-rent apartments are slated to be demolished to make way for luxury townhouses; so when they closed for good this summer, many of its residents moved to The Meadows.

The Knolls has a long history of drug problems and other offenses — so much so that police finally set up a substation there. Now, Meadows residents say the newcomers brought their troubles with them and adversely affected the community's safety and quality of life.

"Most people here are family-oriented," said the young mother. "It was peaceful 'til they all came here from the Knolls during the summer. Now, they fight all the time; they bust each other in the head with a brick and teeth fall out." Added a male neighbor: "Once they get drunk, they always fight."

Alcohol may or may not have been involved in Saturday's tragedy. But realizing serious problems need to be solved in that community, police held a meeting with Meadows residents, Wednesday night, to discuss establishing a Neighborhood Watch organization there.