Shortly after 2 a.m. on April 19, Alexandria Police officers received a call from the public-housing complex near the Braddock Street Metro Station that gunfire had erupted in the neighborhood. When officers arrived at the 800 block of North Patrick Street, they found two men with gunshot wounds bleeding on the pavement in the middle of the road. One victim was already dead, the other died before reaching the hospital.
Route 1 northbound, which is North Patrick Street through the city Alexandria, was closed until about 7:10 a.m. as four detectives, a sergeant and a commander worked overtime to crack the case. On Saturday evening, police officials arrived at one of the public-housing units in Chatham Square, where they arrested Darrell Watson, 19. Neighbors mingled in the courtyard along Euille Street wondering what all the commotion was about.
"This is surprising," said Robin Gearey, who has lived in Chatham Square since October 2005. "It’s been relatively quiet here so far."
Police officials later identified the homicide victims as Nathan Travis Lee, a 31-year-old Alexandria man, and Mark Anthony Collins, 28, of Landover, Md. Court records show that Lee pled guilty in 2002 to grand larceny auto and eluding police. Police say that a motive for the murder remains under investigation.
"I am extremely proud of our detectives who, with the assistance of the commonwealth’s attorney, worked around the clock," said Police Chief David Baker in a written statement. "They are an exceptional team of talented and dedicated professionals."
NEIGHBORHOOD RESIDENTS who live near the location of last week’s double homicide are no strangers to violent crime. In December 2005, the area saw two murders — a shooting in the 800 block of Montgomery Street killed a 22-year-old man and a shooting in the 400 block of Patrick Street killed a 37-year-old man. In March 2005, a 21-year-old man was shot to death in the 700 block of North Fayette Street. Although the neighborhood experienced three victims of gun violence in one year — one of which is still unsolved — police say that the area is safe.
"Over the past few years, we’ve been putting increased resources into this area," said police spokesman Lt. Jamie Bartlett, adding that officials have increased patrolling and lighting in the neighborhood. "And we’ve made progress."
Bartlett pointed to crime statistics in the neighborhood collected by the Police Department that compare 1997 to 2006. He said that 1996 recorded 15 robberies, 17 aggravated assaults, 11 burglaries, 57 larcenies and seven automobile thefts. Statistics from 2007, by contrast, showed much lower crime numbers: one robbery, five aggravated assaults, 12 burglaries, 16 larcenies and two automobile thefts. During a briefing at City Hall on Tuesday night, Chief Baker said that detectives play a key role in the reduced levels of crime in Alexandria.
"So far this year, our detectives have solved 82 percent of all cases assigned, which means that if you commit crime in Alexandria you are going to be caught and prosecuted," Baker told City Council members. "That’s a very significant figure because it’s up from last year’s 78 percent but it also speaks to this issue about how we can come on the scene of a crime like the double homicide in the 800 block of North Patrick Street and work from essentially nothing to arrest a suspect two and a half days later. That’s the kind of work that our detectives our doing."
Although police officials say that crime is down, citing internal statistics that show serious crime is at its lowest point in more than 40 years, many residents who live near the Braddock Street Metro station say they are concerned about the possibility of being victimized by violent crime. Some residents say that they will feel safer when the Police Department fills a community support officer position that has been vacant for several months.
"I think the murder on Patrick Street should be a wake up call to get that position filled," said Sarah Becker, former president of the Inner City Civic Association. "When you have this kind of trouble, which is chronic in this neighborhood, you like to know that you have an officer with an ear to the ground."
Deputy Police Chief Earl Cook said that the officer that had been assigned to that position had been moved to a new job and police officials hope to move someone else into the vacant community support position soon.
"That position will be filled very soon," promised Cook during a meeting at City Hall Tuesday night. "It’s just a matter of moving someone from one position into another position."