Quick thinking by a Hayfield Secondary School staffer helped Fairfax County Police uncover what they believe to be a gang initiation practice at the school on Thursday, March 22.
According to Fairfax County Police Officer Eddy Azcarate, the faculty member found eight students, all juveniles, in a school bathroom last Thursday afternoon. The staff member notified the school resource officer and school security and called police.
"The initial investigation determined it was a gang initiation," Azcarate said. "They also determined there were several other initiations which took place in the days before this incident."
Azcarate said a total of 12 students were identified as those involved in the incident. Four of them are facing charges of gang recruitment on school grounds and gang participation, both felonies. The same students, identified only as two 17-year-old males, a 16-year-old male and a 16-year-old female, are also facing a misdemeanor hazing charge. Azcarate said he wasn't sure what type of sentences the students might face.
THE OTHER STUDENTS involved were listed as four female students aged 15 to 17 and four male students of the same age. No weapons were involved and none of the students were seriously injured, according to police reports.
There are two common types of gang initiation practices, Azcarate said, which involve potential members either being assaulted by gang members or engaging in sex acts in order to join. Azcarate would not identify which type of initiation was interrupted at Hayfield.
The other students involved with the initiation may face other charges, he said.
This was the first gang-related activity found on the campus of a Fairfax County school, Azcarate said.
"The fact that this happened during the school day and on school grounds is something that is being addressed," he said. "We are constantly working on improving gang awareness. We're fortunate that, so far, it's been pretty non-existent [in schools]."
Both Azcarate and Lt. Richard Perez praised the quick thinking of the faculty member for recognizing gang activity and calling police right away.
"They worked the way they were supposed to in this incident," said Perez. "That's an attribute to the work we're doing in the community and the awareness we're trying to bring to the school staff. Their quick thinking is evidence that we're combating gang efforts and recruitment at all levels in the community."
Fairfax County Public Schools public information officer Paul Regnier said the gang involved in this incident "did not appear to be an existing gang but a start-up, for lack of a better word."
Regnier said the staff in county schools are "doing a pretty good job keeping gangs out of schools."
"The good thing is, the staff member caught this early on and got the police involved right away," he said. "We seem to have this isolated."
By catching, identifying and stopping the gang activity quickly, Regnier said he believes the schools and the police are sending the message that gang activity will not be tolerated on school property.
"We all know there are gangs in almost every part of the county," Regnier said. "We know there are gangs around the schools. But the county is making it extremely tough for gangs on all levels."