- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2004

Laura Germain of Springfield is paying close attention to gang activity in Northern Virginia — and the level of violence will be the deciding factor in where she will send her children to high school.

Her children are only 3 and 5, but recent gang-related acts have Mrs. Germain, 38, worried.

“I don’t want them around it,” the stay-at-home mom said as she carried her 3-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. “If it gets worse, we would definitely move to some place without gang violence.”

Other Northern Virginians yesterday expressed similar concerns in the wake of Monday’s gang-related machete attack on a 16-year-old boy. Fairfax County police on Wednesday arrested Hayner R. Flores, 18, of Annadale and charged him with malicious wounding and participation in gang activity.

Several residents said gang activity has personally affected them.

Tony Elmore, 39, said his wife was mugged and beaten by gang members in Alexandria in 2001. Belen Woldemedihen, 27, has seen windows shattered in her Falls Church neighborhood. Jamie DeSimone, 38, witnessed a knifepoint robbery at a Target store in Falls Church this year. And Michelle Pineda, 17, of Alexandria said she hears about gang fights all the time through the grapevine at her high school.

A 41-year-old woman named Jean, who declined to give her last name, said she carries Mace with her at all times. On her way to a post office in the mostly Hispanic neighborhood of Culmore, she said she thinks anti-crime laws should be toughened.

“Kids get slapped on the wrist for selling drugs,” she said. “Gangs are just so out of hand. It’s just escalating.”

When Marcus Gopalan, 27, was growing up in Kensington, he thought gangs were mostly in Southeast. Now that he lives in Alexandria, the computer programmer has seen gang activity significantly increase.

“It’s closing in on the suburbs,” said Mr. Gopalan, on his lunch break in Rosslyn.

Fairfax County police have estimated that there are 4,300 gang members in 53 gangs in Northern Virginia, including 1,131 with known addresses in the county.

Mr. Gopalan’s wife is a bilingual counselor who works with gangs, and his mother is a D.C. school teacher. Their experiences have shown him that younger children are turning to gangs. He said more money should be spent on community projects and youth programs so children from broken homes have alternatives to gangs.

Juan Campos, 40, an immigrant from El Salvador, drives children from Culmore to a local church where he volunteers.

“I tell the parents that if their kids don’t go to church the gangs might pick them up,” he said. “When kids get involved with gangs it’s very sad. The machete attack was very sad.”

Because machetes are known as the “weapon of choice” for the Salvadoran gang MS-13, Delegate David B. Albo this year sponsored a bill that adds the bladed tool to the list of weapons that are illegal to carry concealed. The bill passed overwhelmingly and becomes law July 1.

Other bills that passed the legislature increased the punishment for gang recruiters and made it illegal to threaten people or their families to persuade them to join a gang, commit a crime or leave a gang.

Mr. Albo, Fairfax County Republican, is glad gang-related problems are getting more attention.

“If there is only one good thing that happens from this kid getting his hands cut off, it’s that this has awakened a sleeping monster,” he said.

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