The darkest day in the 67-year-history of the Fairfax County Police Department was May 8, 2006. That's when a teen with a history of mental illness armed to the hilt with high-powered weapons and a slew of ammunition fatally shot Det. Vicky Armel and MPO Mike Garbarino.
Armel, 40, died at the scene, and Garbarino, 53, succumbed nine days later. Both left spouses and children.
The assailant, 18-year-old Michael Kennedy of Centreville, was killed in the ensuing gunfire. And now, the man authorities believe gave Kennedy access to all those weapons — his father — has been charged in federal court.
"OBVIOUSLY, he'll have his day in court," said Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully). "And from what I know, I think he needs to be held accountable. What's impossible for me to comprehend is how he could have kept weapons in the house available to his son."
An agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) arrested Brian Harold Kennedy, 50, last Thursday, April 5, at a home on Hawthorne Lane in Falls Church. He was indicted in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on eight drugs-and-weapons offenses.
The indictment details Brian Kennedy's marijuana use for the past decade and states that, "as an unlawful user of a controlled substance, [he's] prohibited under federal law from possessing firearms and ammunition." If convicted, he could be sentenced to as much as 65 years in prison.
"Frankly, I'm glad to see [this development]," said Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-37th), who was a close friend of Garbarino's. "If Michael Kennedy had managed to acquire those weapons of his own volition, there'd be no other involvement. But this wasn't an all-Michael Kennedy crime. He was responsible for pulling the trigger and the evil done that day. But, certainly, I'd characterize his father as criminally negligent — and, thankfully, he'll pay a price for this."
The nightmare began May 8, 2006, around 3:40 p.m., when Michael Kennedy carjacked a van and drove into the rear lot of the Sully District Police Station. Unarmed, Garbarino was inside his cruiser after his shift, preparing to leave on vacation. Suddenly, from a few yards away, Kennedy fired more than 20 rounds at him with an AK-47 rifle.
Garbarino was struck five times; yet though gravely wounded and in pain, he radioed other officers, alerting them to the danger. He provided suspect information, directed responding officers and told the police helicopter where to land.
Armel went outside to respond to the carjacking and, when she reached her cruiser, Kennedy arrived and began shooting at Garbarino. Drawing Kennedy's fire away from Garbarino, she and Kennedy exchanged gunfire, and a bullet from his 30.06-caliber rifle pierced her ballistic vest and struck her in the chest.
ARMED WITH FIVE handguns, an AK-47 assault weapon, a high-powered rifle and more than 300 rounds of ammunition, Kennedy fired 70 rounds-plus before other officers killed him. Later that night, armed with a warrant, Det. Craig Paul and other police officers searched Kennedy's home at 6200 Prince Way for three hours, seizing a veritable arsenal of weapons and more than 2,500 rounds of ammunition.
The indictment states that Brian Kennedy illegally possessed 20 firearms, including an AK-47 and several bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. He also owned a large variety of handguns — among them a .38 Special Taurus and a 9 mm Luger Commander semi-automatic pistol.
Weapons were everywhere in the Kennedy home; the inventory list of items seized is 10 pages long. Under the mattress in the master bedroom were a Colt 9 mm handgun with one round in the chamber and a leather sheath containing a 9-inch knife. On the nightstand were a bayonet plus high-velocity ammunition for a Remington, semi-automatic shotgun.
A Smith & Wesson knife was under the left, loveseat cushion in the living room, and both a 12-gauge shotgun and a 22-caliber long rifle stood in the corner of the hallway to the basement. An M80 explosive was tucked inside a kitchen cabinet to the right of the stove, and an Atlanta Sharptec knife was stored in the ceiling above the utility-room door.
Quantities of a "leafy green substance," a glass pipe and other drug paraphernalia — including a smoking device created from prescription bottles and clear, plastic tubing — were also confiscated. Police seized, as well, directions to Potomac Ridge Behavioral Health Center and two bills addressed to Michael Kennedy from the Woodburn Mental Health facility.
Jim Rybicki, U.S. District Court spokesman, said he didn't know why the elder Kennedy wasn't arrested until now — nearly a year after the tragedy and the weapons seizure. He also doesn't know what entity currently has possession of all those firearms and their ammunition.
But he said the ATF "was out there on the day of the shooting. Frequently, federal authorities will work side by side with local authorities when weapons are involved [in a crime], and they did in this case because of its scale and the number of rounds expended."
According to ATF spokesman Mike Campbell, "We got involved in the case pretty much from the beginning of the incident and have been working on it ever since."
THE FEDERAL INDICTMENT handed down against Brian Kennedy last week states that, when his son Michael went on his deadly rampage, May 8, 2006, he was in unlawful possession of seven of his father's weapons, plus their ammunition. The weapons were the AK-47, four .22-caliber revolvers, the .38-caliber Special Taurus and a Springfield 30.06-caliber, bolt-action rifle.
Regarding Brian Kennedy's arrest, Sen. Cuccinelli said, "It won't bring Mike and Vicky back but, at least, there's some measure of justice for [the person who allegedly] contributed to what happened. Lawbreakers shouldn't be gun owners and aren't allowed to be, by law; and I think it's appropriate for federal prosecutors to reach out on behalf of the community and deliver justice."
Cuccinelli said many area residents were relieved that Brian Kennedy was charged. Likewise, Supervisor Frey believes Fairfax County police are "pleased that the federal prosecutor's office worked so hard on their behalf. Whatever the outcome, I think it'll make them feel better."
From what friends and family have said about Michael Kennedy, said Frey, the teen's mental-health problems were obvious to those who knew and loved him. But in such instances, he said, "There need to be reasonable measures for safety."
"Clearly, he needed help," continued Frey. "We can't change that. But if we could send the message that guns and mental illness don't mix, that would be a positive step. I know his parents blamed the system for not helping him, but I don't. He was an adult and, unless someone's going to file for an involuntary commitment, confinement isn't going to happen."
However, said Frey, "Simple steps — like seeing that he didn't have access to high-powered weapons — is something the family could have done. But it failed him in that regard. It wasn't as if they didn't know he had problems. But to have that kind of firepower in a house where you have a son showing signs of mental illness — and particularly if you also have a 9-year-old girl — puts the whole family at risk."
Leslie and Dan Jenuleson, Neighborhood Watch Coordinators for Sully Station II — the community adjacent to the Sully District Police Station — organized vigils for both Armel and Garbarino after the shootings. And both are glad Brian Kennedy's been charged.
"We're very supportive of the pursuit of justice in this tragic situation, and we want the facts laid out about the situation on the homefront that led Michael Kennedy to the course of action he took," said Dan Jenuleson. "It's very sad that three people had to lose their lives, and it has a domino effect on their families and the police families."
Stressing that residents shouldn't take the security of Fairfax County life for granted, Jenuleson said people should recognize that "individuals and threats are out there. So they should be more aware of their surroundings and, if they see something suspicious, report it."
LESLIE JENULESON believes Brian Kennedy's prosecution brings "some closure" to the police and is probably a "big relief" for them. "I think it gives the community peace," she said. "Many people were wondering, 'What about the parents? Where were the parents, and why'd the kid have so many guns?'"
She said it also reminds parents "they are responsible for their children's actions. Teach them right from wrong. We all need to reach out to our children, treat them with respect and show them we care."
The indictment contends that Brian Kennedy smoked marijuana with his son, and Leslie Jenuleson said it's never a good idea for parents to do drugs with their children. "I worked with adolescents at a drug-rehab center in Pennsylvania, and most of them got started from family or friends," she said. "I think this was a big, wake-up call to the community to pay more attention to their kids and, if they need help, get it for them."
As for the weapons, Cuccinelli said there's nothing wrong with law-abiding citizens owning guns. "But we assume those folks will make rational decisions," he said. "In this case, it was like giving car keys to a drunk."
"Brian Kennedy knew about his son's mental illness," said Cuccinelli. "And under those circumstances, I think he had an obligation to the community to keep the community safe — and he failed. Mike Garbarino and Vicky Armel were killed because of it. He didn't pull the trigger, but he sure provided it."