Herndon Monique Tran spent her morning running errands. She thought it was going to be a typical day. This was Monday, Jan. 16, the day the Fairfax County police shot and killed her neighbor Mohammad Azim Doudzai, 32, just outside his home, according to police.
That morning, she went to the gym, got a haircut and did some grocery shopping at Costco. When she got home around 2 p.m. her husband helped her bring the groceries inside.
This was when she noticed her neighbor Doudzai talking with two people outside. She greeted him, but did not get the usual response.
“When I see him, I say hello and he’s very nice,” she says. “But nobody answered me.”
Doudzai routinely had customers in his driveway because he fixes cars, according to Tran. This observation is as much as she and other neighbors living on the other street knew about him.
The unusual silence was a small sign that things were not normal.
By 3:30 p.m., her home would be surrounded by police officers, responding to a double shooting, fire and hostage situation next door, according to police.
“Police knocked on the door and said, ‘Get out, get out of the house,’” she says.
In her panic, she left her coat and her cellphone. Her husband also ran out of the house without a coat and shoes.
“No purse, no phone, no nothing,” she says. “I could not contact my daughter to come and pick me up. I could not call my son … It was very scary,” she says. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Tran has lived on Covered Wagon Lane for 17 years. She and her neighbors living in the 10 townhomes on the street are used to a quiet neighborhood.
THE SUBURBAN NEIGHBORHOOD is directly off Fox Mill Road in Herndon, outside of town limits. Parking on the streets within the neighborhood is by permit only.
Less than 80 steps from Covered Wagon Lane sits the neighborhood’s basketball court, where children often play.
Sleem Bhatti, who lives a few doors down, moved onto the street with his family less than a month ago.
“I drove my son home from school and arrived to police everywhere,” he says. “There was yellow tape from Fox Mill [Road] to Rolling Plains [Drive].”
While he and his son couldn’t get in, those on the street who were spending the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday indoors were also evacuated.
“A cop called us to get out of the house,” says Amishaben Patel, who also lives on the street. “We were scared.”
Though she did not know what was going on at the time of the evacuation, Patel says the police gathered the neighborhood in a community hall at a location on the other side of Fox Mill Road and were given an update on the investigation.
“They didn’t allow us back to our homes until 7:30 p.m.” she says.
Nearby residents on adjacent Rolling Plains Drive and Covered Wagon Court were also caught up in the violence.
Haritha Govindu lives with her family less than 40 steps from the crime scene on Rolling Plains Drive. Her street was not evacuated.
“We were asked to stay inside,” she says.
She and her husband heard shots while they were looking out their window, which views out onto both her street and Covered Wagon Lane, she says. They did not see the fatal shooting.
“It’s a quiet neighborhood,” she says. “This kind of thing is not expected. I’ve never seen that before. It’s usually friendly.”
During the chaos, she was very concerned for her 8-year-old daughter and was glad that her younger daughter was away at a daycare at the time.
Barbara Smith, who moved to her home in 1998, recalled trying to drive home after the violence began. When she pulled up and tried to get into Covered Wagon Court, she saw the emergency vehicles. She thought it was just a routine response, perhaps a false fire alarm, she says.
It wasn’t until she saw a police officer standing with a rifle blocking entry into the barricaded area that she realized this was not a typical house call.
“I don’t know what [Doudzai] burned, but it smelled like rubber,” she says. “It stunk.”
Doudzai set the townhome on fire while he and a roommate were both inside, according to police.
She left the area and didn’t return until later that night until she knew it was safe. It was while she was away that she learned the situation ended with the death of the suspect.
“Since it was an officer-involved shooting, they have to cross every T and dot every I,” she says of the investigation.
TEN DAYS AFTER the event on Thursday, Jan. 26, Police Chief Edwin Roessler released a statement telling the public that he would not release the officer’s name who used a lethal firearm that killed Doudzai. This was despite the department’s policy of doing so within 10 days.
“I informed the Board of Supervisors this afternoon that a thorough threat assessment is still being conducted regarding the officer involved in this incident,” he said in his statement. “County policy is to release an officer’s name within 10 days, unless I can articulate a risk to that officer.”
The involved officer, who was not injured, remains on routine administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, according to police.
Meanwhile, neighbors are adjusting back to normalcy. On Tuesday evening, Jan. 24, a group of kids were playing on the basketball court once again.