- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Virginia’s attorney general yesterday announced the formation of a statewide gang task force to recommend solutions to the growing problem of youth violence.

“We have a gang problem in Virginia,” Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said. “It’s time to admit we have a gang problem and deal with it.”

Mr. Kilgore said the task force will include General Assembly members and law-enforcement officials from federal, state and local government. Members will consider broadening state laws defining gang activity and seek to strengthen penalties for gang activities. Mr. Kilgore said one possibility is to expand the use of racketeering and forfeiture laws so officials can seize the assets of gang members.

“We want to go after gang activity and make sure it’s punished appropriately,” Mr. Kilgore said. He said the task force would also develop education programs to steer children away from gangs.

While an increase in gang activity in Northern Virginia is one target of the initiative, “all areas of Virginia need to focus on this issue and recognize the signs of gang activity,” Mr. Kilgore said.

He cited a May 22 gang-related killing in the George Washington National Forest as one example. Christopher S. Kennedy, 19, of Staunton was found partially submerged in a pond. He died after he was stabbed a dozen times in the upper body.

Police suspect Mr. Kennedy was killed because he wanted to leave a gang.

“It proves to all of us that it’s happening in every part of Virginia — rural, urban and suburban,” Mr. Kilgore said.

Capt. Dwight Wood of the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office said the killing shocked the police as well as the community.

“It wasn’t until this that we realized there was more [gang] activity than we thought,” Capt. Wood said. He said police were aware of the presence of youth gangs, but the only crimes that had been associated with them had been some simple assaults.

Augusta County Sheriff’s officers have arrested four persons in connection with the killing. Capt. Wood said those arrested have confessed to being part of a gang called the Crips.

He said that despite the gang’s name, which is also the name of a notorious Los Angeles street gang, there was no indication that activity in Augusta County had ties to any other gangs outside the county or state.

“If they’re trying to imitate somebody, they’ve done a pretty good job of it,” Capt. Wood said.

In Fairfax County, police welcomed news of the anti-gang initiative.

“I think anytime you get more people and more organizations involved in the fight against this gang problem it’s a very positive thing,” said Lt. Susan Culin, acting commander of the county’s youth services division, which investigates gang activity.

Lt. Culin said there are approximately 1,500 gang members in 82 identified gangs throughout the county.

In July, The Washington Times reported that an international gang called MS-13 sent members from California to its group in Fairfax County to increase its criminal presence and kill a police officer.

No police officer was killed, but there were several other high-profile incidents in Northern Virginia involving members of the same gang.

On July 31, there were 16 arrests in nearby Leesburg, when a large group of people believed to be members of MS-13 attacked a man with a machete.

Last week, a Manassas man was sentenced to prison for his role in a teenager’s initiation. Reyes Antonio Avila-Villalta, 22, was convicted of participating in the criminal gang and recruiting a juvenile into the MS-13 gang.

The victim, a 17-year-old Manassas girl, told police that the gang members gave her two options for joining their group in August: agree to be beaten by each member for 13 seconds, or have sex with six of them for five minutes each.

Police said the girl chose the latter but reported the incident to police the next morning.

Avila-Villalta was sentenced to five years in prison on each charge with 49 months suspended, with the sentences to run consecutively.

Mr. Kilgore said he hoped to see a task force report by November.

“That will give us time to put any proposals for legislation into the General Assembly by January,” he said.

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