|Graffiti is a sign of gang activity, although it's not known whether this particular example in Annandale is gang related.|
“We need to get gang activity under control,” Gross said. Many residents have been expressing concerns about the rise in gang activity after the discovery of two bodies in Holmes Run Stream Valley Park on March 2.
“That was a terribly tragic, sad situation,” said Gross during her Budget Town Hall on March 9. “That is the catalyst for the meeting but that won’t be discussed.”
Police haven’t released information on the identity of the victims, how they were killed, or whether the murders occurred in the park or the bodies were dumped there. Last May, members of MS-13 were convicted of murdering two people in Holmes Run Stream Valley Park.
The town hall is expected to focus on how the community can be alert to gang activity and how parents can ensure their children aren’t recruited into gangs. Representatives from the police department, school system, county agencies, and nonprofit organizations are expected to speak.
Gang activity is on the rise. There have been at least five-gang related homicides across the Washington, D.C., region since last fall, the Fairfax County Police Department reports, “gangs are actively and successfully recruiting new members, especially in middle school.”
“Gang activity in Fairfax County isn’t just a law enforcement issue,” says Ed Ryan, gang prevention coordinator with the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force. “It’s an issue that anyone who lives and works in the county should feel obligated to do their part to try and address.”
“That could be reporting suspicious activity or alerting the authorities if you see graffiti,” Ryan says. “That also means parents incorporating the topic into talks with their children so kids are prepared and aware that negative influences like gangs exist, the same way drugs, weapons, and bullies do.” To report suspicious activity to the task force, call 866-NO-GANGS (866-664-2647).
Gang members generally range in age from 13 to 24, but can be as young as 9, and can include all ethnic groups. The number of girls in gangs, now at about 10 percent, is growing.
According to the task force, kids get involved with gangs because they want to be loved, accepted, or part of a group. They also seek excitement, a sense of identity, financial gain, or protection. Peer pressure is major factor, too.
The task force urges parents to be alert to signs of gang involvement and risky behavior – and respond quickly by discussing concerns with a counselor, member of the clergy, or human services professional.
These are some of the warning signs:
- withdrawing from family activities.
- suddenly changing friends and spending time with undesirable people.
- social media posts with signs of teens falling prey to gang recruitment.
- a bad attitude toward family, school and authorities.
- sudden drop in school grades.
- staying out later than usual.
- wanting excessive privacy.
- using a new nickname, hand signs, or unfamiliar slang words.
- wearing clothing of all one color or style or modifying clothing to indicate membership in a special group.
- changing their appearance with special haircuts, eyebrow markings, or tattoos.
- suddenly having more money or possessions.
- using gang graffiti on folders, desks, walls, and buildings.
- drug or alcohol use.
- carrying objects that can be used as weapons.