A man who helped murder a 14-year-old in Holmes Run Stream Valley Park nearly eight years ago will spend a quarter-century in prison for his role in the crime.
Edwin Orellana Caballero was sentenced yesterday (Wednesday) to 25 years in prison — the maximum possible sentence — by U.S. District Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr., the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced.
A member of a local branch of the transnational gang MS-13, Orellana Caballero pleaded guilty to maiming in aid of racketeering activity in November.
Orellana Caballero was 16 years old and a resident of Alexandria when he joined other MS-13 members in attacking the 14-year-old — who’s identified in court documents as S.A.A.T. — in the Lincolnia section of Holmes Run park on Sept. 26, 2016, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“The gang lured S.A.A.T. to Holmes Run Stream Valley Park in Fairfax County and murdered him in a wooded area there with knives, machetes, and a pickaxe,” the news release says. “Orellana Caballero struck S.A.A.T. multiple times with the pickaxe. Once S.A.A.T. was dead, the gang buried him in a shallow grave.”
Police found the 14-year-old’s body inside the park near the intersection of Crater Place and Yellowstone Drive on March 2, 2017 after a tip prompted a two-day search of the area. A second set of remains uncovered in the same area was a 17-year-old identified by federal prosecutors as E.E.E.M.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, E.E.E.M. was lured to Holmes Run Stream Valley Park by MS-13 members on Aug. 28, 2016, because they “erroneously suspected” that he belonged to a rival gang. He was stabbed and cut more than 100 times with knives, a machete and a pickaxe.
A month later, the same individuals targeted S.A.A.T. under the suspicion that he was a police informant.
Seventeen people have been charged in connection with the two murders. Five men who went to trial were convicted of murder and kidnapping by a jury in July 2022, resulting in life-long prison sentences for all of them. Orellana Caballero is one of 10 defendants so far to plead guilty before a trial.
“In so doing, he admitted to participating in S.A.A.T.’s murder for the purpose of maintaining and increasing his position in MS-13,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Orellana Caballero’s sentencing was announced by U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber, Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis and FBI Washington Field Office Special Agent in Charge David Scott.
A McLean woman will serve two life sentences in prison for murdering her mother and sister in 2017, county prosecutors announced today (Friday).
Megan Hargan received the two life sentences for fatally shooting her mother, Pamela Hargan, 63, and Helen Hargan, 24, in their house on July 14, 2017. She also got an additional sentence of six years in prison for two gun-related charges, according to the Fairfax County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Hargan was convicted by a jury in September of first-degree murder and use of a firearm in a felony. It was her second conviction after an initial one handed down in March 2022 got vacated by a judge who determined that a juror had improperly experimented with a rifle at home to see if Helen Hargan could’ve died by suicide, as defense attorneys alleged.
“Megan Hargan’s actions in July 2017 go beyond what most of us can imagine,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said. “On a quiet Friday morning in her mother’s home, she made an irreversible decision — one that would devastate her family and tear the community apart. First-degree murder is the most serious offense you can be convicted of in Virginia, and today’s sentence reflects the gravity of the defendant’s crimes.”
After finding the bodies of Pamela and Helen Hargan inside their home in the 6700 block of Dean Drive, the Fairfax County Police Department initially characterized the deaths as a murder-suicide incident, but they suspected early on that the scene might have been staged.
Police and prosecutors later argued that Megan Hargan had killed her mother and sister over a financial disagreement.
More from the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney:
On the afternoon of July 14, 2017, Megan Hargan, 41, shot Pamela, 63, and Helen, 24, in Pamela’s McLean home where the three were living at the time, along with Hargan’s then-8-year-old daughter. Hargan staged the house as a murder-suicide and claimed that younger sister Helen had killed their mom before killing herself.
Evidence presented at trial showed that the conflict stemmed from a financial dispute: Megan, who was buying a house in West Virginia, resented that her mother, Pamela, wasn’t helping her financially but was at the same time helping her sister Helen to buy a house. On July 13, the day before the killings, Megan attempted to transfer upwards of $400,000 from her mother’s bank account to pay for Megan’s new house, which was closing that day. The transaction was flagged as fraud, and the next day Megan shot her mother before attempting to make the same wire transfer again from her mother’s account. She then shot her sister Helen, who was upstairs at the time. Both family members were killed by a .22 rifle, which belonged to Megan’s husband and was being stored in the McLean house temporarily.
Megan Hargan was arrested on Nov. 9, 2018.
“This was a complicated case to prosecute, and we would not be here today without the detectives, witnesses, and family members who persisted through two lengthy, emotional trials,” Descano said. “I want to express my gratitude for their resolve in bringing this case to justice.”
The man believed to have killed 24-year-old Ana Jurado in West Falls Church over three decades ago had started an entirely new family by the time he got arrested, Fairfax County police say.
Jose Lazaro Cruz arrived and was taken into custody at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center last Thursday, Jan. 18 — 32 years after detectives got a warrant charging him with murdering Jurado on April 30, 1991, officials announced yesterday.
In that time, one of the detectives on the case — Fred Fife — has died, and his partner, Rich Perez, recently retired, according to Police Chief Kevin Davis.
“We’ve never forgotten the family. We’ve never forgotten the seriousness of this senseless crime, and we never stopped,” Davis said. “That’s why we’re so proud to be here today.”
Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano and other FCPD officials also spoke at the press conference.
According to the Fairfax County Police Department, officers were called to the 3100 block of Cofer Road in the evening of April 30, 1991 for a stabbing. Upon arriving, officers found Jurado lying at the street curb with a knife wound to the upper body. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Witnesses reported hearing a scream and seeing a man leave the area who matched a description of Cruz, Jurado’s husband.
Also 24 years old at the time, Cruz and Jurado were in the process of getting a divorce, FCPD Deputy Chief of Investigations Eli Cory said. Jurado had a 4-year-old son, who was with family in El Salvador at the time of her murder, and two daughters — a 3-year-old and a 7-month-old living in the U.S.
Police believe Cruz initially attempted to flee into Canada but got denied entry at the border for using fake identification. Instead, he turned south, crossing the Mexican border from Houston, Texas, with the help of a smuggler and ending up in El Salvador, which didn’t have any extradition procedures.
That country’s lack of extradition held up arrests in nine Fairfax County murder cases over the preceding decade, including Jurado’s, the Washington Post reported in 1998.
“Rich Perez, for years, worked with the El Salvadorean government to get a mechanism put in place,” Cory said.
El Salvador amended its constitution in July 2000 to allow extradition, but police didn’t locate Cruz until he tried to enter Costa Rica on July 29, 2022, possibly to visit family there, Cory said.
According to Cory, the FCPD determined that Cruz remarried and started “an entire new family” with “several children” while living in El Salvador, where he worked as a truck driver.
Because of the lengthy extradition process, it took another 16 months or so for Cruz to be transferred from the custody of Costa Rican authorities to the U.S. Marshals Service, which brought him back to the U.S. so he could be served the felony murder warrant that detectives had obtained on May 10, 1991.
“This really isn’t a traditional cold case,” Davis observed. “It was solved virtually right away. He was on the lam. He was on the run. He avoided accountability for something he did nearly 33 years ago.”
Fife’s son, Aaron Fife, recalled his father as someone who valued collaboration and was committed to his job and advocating for victims of crimes.
Fred Fife retired in 1994 after a 24-year career with the FCPD, including 17 years spent working on homicide cases, according to his son, who now works for the FCPD himself.
“To bring closure to the victims’ families wasn’t just a duty for him, it was a commitment,” Aaron Fife said. “I would just like to use this as a reminder to me to carry on the lessons he taught me about dedication, collaboration and compassion.”
The police investigation into Fairfax County’s first homicide of 2024 has resulted in a murder charge against a 14-year-old.
The teen allegedly stabbed a 17-year-old boy in Annandale at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday (Jan. 13), killing him, the Fairfax County Police Department reported last night (Thursday).
The 14-year-old and an 18-year-old man who tried to intervene were also injured, according to police.
“During the assault, the 14-year-old lost control of the knife and was stabbed by the victim,” the FCPD said. “The 18-year-old heard the commotion, attempted to intervene, and was injured in the process.”
The 14-year-old remains hospitalized and in police custody.
Here’s more on the stabbing in the Fairmont Gardens apartments from the original police report:
At 11:30 p.m. last night, officers responded to the 4200 block of Wadsworth Court in Annandale for a stabbing that occurred outside. Officers found the 17-year-old in a grassy area suffering from stab wounds. Fire and rescue personnel transported him to the hospital where he was pronounced deceased. The 14-year-old was found inside a nearby apartment and was also taken to the hospital, where he remains. As detectives were investigating an 18-year-old entered the hospital and was treated for injuries believed to be related to the stabbing.
Detectives are actively investigating the circumstances that led to the stabbing. This is not domestic related, and both juveniles are known to each other from previous disputes. Detectives believe all parties from this incident are accounted for.
The same apartment complex was the site of a shooting that hospitalized a woman on Tuesday (Jan. 16). In an update released yesterday, the FCPD said the circumstances of the shooting remain under investigation, but detectives don’t believe it was a random act.
“The suspect, accompanied by two other subjects, was briefly allowed into the apartment before discharging shots,” the police department said, noting that the apartment unit is “well-known to area officers.”
A West Potomac High School student has been charged with murder in connection to a fatal shooting in October outside a D.C. bar.
Ashton Inabinet, a 16-year-old Hybla Valley resident, was arrested yesterday (Wednesday) and charged with second-degree murder while armed for allegedly shooting and killing 24-year-old D.C. resident Diamonte Lewis on Oct. 21, D.C. U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves announced.
Lewis was celebrating his birthday when the shooting broke out around 3:38 a.m., possibly following a fight, outside Nellie’s Sports Bar at the corner of 9th and U Streets NW, according to news and police reports.
Officers with the Metropolitan Police Department responded to the scene and found Lewis suffering from gunshot wounds, unconscious and unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at 3:50 a.m., leaving behind two children.
According to a police affidavit, Inabinet was identified as one of two people who fired shots that morning through surveillance video footage and an anonymous tip provided on Nov. 14. Both suspects were traced to Virginia schools, and West Potomac’s school resource officer confirmed Inabinet’s identity to detectives based on a “distinctive headband” seen in the surveillance video.
However, the MPD alleges in court documents that, without coordinating with detectives, Fairfax County police and Fairfax County Public Schools officials “essentially tipped off” Inabinet that he was under investigation, giving him time to confiscate evidence.
On Tuesday, November 28, 2023, West Potomac High School ordered Fairfax County Police to go to the defendant’s residence and notify them that the defendant was not allowed to return to school in reference to a D.C. investigation. This information provided the defendant approximately a week to remove evidence from the residence, such as clothing, 9mm semi-automatic pistol and/or 9mm ammunition of the same brand used during the homicide.
In statements first reported by WUSA9, the Fairfax County Police Department and FCPS said Inabinet was banned from school as a safety measure after MPD homicide detectives informed the West Potomac school resource officer on Nov. 28 that they intended to pursue charges against a student.
From the FCPD:
MPD homicide detectives appeared at a Fairfax County high school on Tuesday, November 28, interacted with a School Resource Officer and stated their intention to eventually pursue criminal charges against a Fairfax County high school student for a recent firearm murder in their jurisdiction. MPD detectives had not yet obtained criminal charges. We delivered a letter authored by Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid banning the student, a murder suspect, from school until we received further information. This is a preventive action we own and stand by. The Fairfax County Police Department has a duty and responsibility to protect our students.
Reid says FCPS supports the FCPD’s actions.
“The safety of our schools remains our top priority and we will always act swiftly to protect our students and staff,” Reid said. “We continue to work collaboratively with Fairfax County Police, who are partners in this work, and we are in agreement with their statement.”
Inabinet pleaded not guilty at an arraignment yesterday in D.C. Superior Court. He’s currently in custody at the D.C. Central Detention Facility without bond after a judge “found probable cause that the defendant committed the murder,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of D.C.
A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for next Wednesday, Dec. 13.
Image via Google Maps. Hat tip to Romeo (@RVANOVA01).
(Updated at 6:55 p.m. on 2/28/2024) Another suspect in the 2016 murders of two teens at Holmes Run Stream Valley Park in Lincolnia has pleaded guilty.
Edwin Orellana Caballero, a member of the gang La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, pleaded guilty yesterday (Wednesday) to one count of maiming in aid of racketeering activity in connection to the kidnapping and killing of a 14-year-old from Alexandria, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced.
An Alexandria resident who was 16 years old at the time, Orellana Caballero is one of 17 people who have been charged in the case, which also involved the murder of a 17-year-old Falls Church resident.
According to the Department of Justice, Orellana Cabellero and other members of an MS-13 clique known as the Park View Locos Salvatrucha kidnapped and killed the 14-year-old, who’s identified only as S.A.A.T., on Sept. 26, 2016.
“The gang lured S.A.A.T. to Holmes Run Stream Valley Park in Fairfax County and murdered him in a wooded area there with knives, machetes, and a pickaxe,” the DOJ said in the press release. “Specifically, Orellana Caballero struck S.A.A.T. multiple times with the pickaxe. Once S.A.A.T. was dead, the gang buried him in a shallow grave.”
Prosecutors have said that S.A.A.T. was targeted based on an unfounded suspicion that he was a police informant. The 17-year-old, identified as E.E.E.M., was killed at Holmes Run park in a similarly brutal manner on Aug. 28, 2016.
Five of the individuals involved in the murders were convicted by a federal jury in July 2022 and received lifetime prison sentences that November. Including Orellana Cabellero, 10 defendants have now pleaded guilty before a trial, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis joined U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Jessica Aber and Wayne Jacobs, the special agent in charge of the FBI Washington Field Office’s criminal division to announce Orellana Cabellero’s plea after it was accepted by U.S. District Judge Rossie Alston Jr.
Orellana Cabellero is scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 28, 2024. He faces a potential sentence of at least 20 years and at most 25 years in prison.
Image via Google Maps
(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Police have made an arrest in a fatal shooting and stabbing incident that occurred in the Frying Pan area nearly eight months ago.
The Fairfax County Police Department announced today (Thursday) that 23-year-old Reston resident Juliana Peres Magalhaes has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder for allegedly shooting Joseph Ryan, a 39-year-old Springfield man who was killed at a house in the 13200 block of Stable Brook Way on Feb. 24.
The house belonged to the family of 37-year-old Christine Banfield, who was found that day in an upstairs bedroom with stab wounds to her upper body. She later died at a hospital.
The FCPD says officers were greeted by “an appalling scene” when they responded to the house shortly after 8 a.m.
Magalhaes, who worked for the Banfield family as an au pair, and Christine Banfield’s husband had jointly called 911, according to police.
“A 911 call was received where a woman stated her friend was hurt,” the FCPD said in a news release from Feb. 25. “A man then got on the line and stated he shot an unknown man who entered his home and stabbed a woman.”
Contrary to what Banfield’s husband allegedly stated in the 911 call, detectives now believe Magalhaes was responsible for shooting Ryan based on “forensic evidence and multiple interviews,” police said.
Banfield’s stabbing remains under investigation.
An initial tweet alerting the community to the incident indicated that the man who got shot — later identified as Ryan — was the suspect in the stabbing, but the police department now says it’s still working to figure out exactly what happened.
Erin Weeks with the FCPD’s violent crimes division confirmed at a brief press conference today that everyone involved in the case has been identified. Police don’t think Magalhaes knew who Ryan was when she shot him, but he and Banfield were known to each other.
“Detectives continue to conduct interviews and review digital and forensic evidence to determine the circumstances that led up to the fatal stabbing of Christine Banfield,” the FCPD now says.
Magalhaes is in custody at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center without bond, police said.
(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) An Arlington man could be sentenced to life in prison for fatally stabbing a woman and setting her body on fire in a Seven Corners condominium last year.
A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury has convicted 48-year-old Richard Montano of first-degree murder and arson for killing Silvia Vaca Abacay, whose body he subsequently attempted to burn, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano announced yesterday (Thursday).
“As Commonwealth’s Attorney, I’ve seen considerable crime scenes and photos, but the photos from this case stood out in terms of the severity of the victim’s injuries,” Descano said in a statement. “Nothing can undo Silvia’s death, but a conviction ensures that the defendant is no longer a danger to members of our community. I hope today’s verdict provides the victim’s family with the first step towards healing.”
Officers were called to a condo on Willston Place in The Villages at Falls Church at 3:05 p.m. on Aug. 10, 2022 for a man and woman who were heard arguing, Fairfax County Police Department Major Crimes Bureau Commander Ed O’Carroll said at the time.
Abacay had been stabbed multiple times, and her body was on fire when police found her. Though first responders extinguished the fire, she died at the scene.
According to police, a witness reported seeing a man flee the scene, prompting an extensive search of the area that briefly required residents to shelter in place. Montano was arrested at his home in Arlington around 6:30 p.m. that same day.
He was originally charged with second-degree murder, arson in an occupied dwelling and burglary with the intent to commit murder.
Descano’s office says prosecutors asked the jury to find Montano guilty of first-degree murder, noting that murder charges typically have some built-in flexibility allowing a jury or judge to determine if a first degree, second degree or manslaughter charge is most appropriate.
“Murder charges are usually indicted as second-degree because that is based on the information/evidence available at the time,” Laura Birnbaum, public information officer for the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, said by email. “Then, at trial, prosecutors can ask a jury or judge to find either first or second depending on the level of premeditation.”
The burglary charge was dropped at a preliminary hearing last fall, Birnbaum confirmed.
During a trial that began on Monday (Oct. 2), prosecutors made the case that Montano had mistaken Abacay for her friend, who had broken up with him after an eight-year relationship in July. Abacay was temporarily living at her friend’s apartment.
“A neighbor’s Ring camera footage showed that Montano had entered her apartment without her knowledge multiple times in the preceding month, with his last entry just 10 days before the murder occurred,” the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office said. “The same neighbor called 911 four times that afternoon after hearing screaming and banging from across the hall.”
The neighbor testified to a judge at the preliminary hearing in November that his last 911 call was to tell responders that “there was smoke and fire coming out of the building,” DC News Now reported.
Medical examiners determined that Abacay died from the stab wounds before Montano set her body on fire, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office says.
The murder and arson charges both carry potential life sentences. Montano is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 19, 2024.
Photo courtesy Ed O’Carroll/Twitter
A woman who shot and killed her mother and sister at their shared home in McLean six years ago has been convicted of murder for a second time.
A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury found Megan Hargan guilty of first-degree murder and using a firearm while committing a felony on Friday (Sept. 22) after a previous conviction got vacated due to juror misconduct.
“Pamela and Helen [Hargan] were loved by many, and their deaths in 2017 tore this community apart, with the added shock and horror of being killed in their own home by a family member,” Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said in a statement on Friday. “…Today’s guilty verdict has been a long time coming, and I hope [that] Pam and Helen’s loved ones will be able to take one step closer to healing.”
According to news releases from the time, police officers discovered the bodies of Pamela, 63, and Helen Hargan, 24, inside their home in the 6700 block of Dean Drive on July 14, 2017 after receiving a call around 2 p.m. that someone might’ve been killed there.
All three women lived in the house at the time, along with Megan Hargan’s then-8-year-old daughter, who wasn’t home when the shootings occurred, according to Descano’s office.
The Fairfax County Police Department initially characterized the killings as a murder-suicide, where Helen Hargan shot her mother before turning the gun on herself. But when announcing Megan Hargan’s arrest on Nov. 9, 2018, officials said there was suspicion “early on” that the scene may have been staged, WTOP reported.
Those suspicions honed in on Megan Hargan after investigators learned that she had tried to transfer money from her mother Pamela’s bank account on both the day before and the day of the murders, the FCPD said in 2018.
From there, police determined that the killings were motivated by a conflict over finances, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office said in a press release:
Megan, who was buying a house for her family, resented that her mother, Pamela, wasn’t helping her financially but was at the same time helping her sister Helen to buy a house. On July 13, the day before the killings, Megan attempted to transfer upwards of $400,000 from her mother’s bank account to pay for Megan’s new house, which was closing that day. The transaction was flagged as fraud, and the next day Megan shot her mother before attempting to make the same wire transfer again from her mother’s account. She then shot her sister Helen, who was upstairs. Both family members were killed by a .22 rifle, which belonged to Megan’s husband and was being stored in the McLean house temporarily.
Nearly three decades after she died, police say they know who killed Robin Lawrence.
Stephen Smerk, a 51-year-old man now living in Niskayuna, New York, has been charged with second-degree murder after recently confessing to killing Lawrence at her West Springfield home in 1994, Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis announced this afternoon (Monday).
Detectives connected Smerk to the case with the help of Parabon NanoLabs, a Reston-based DNA tech company that created a composite sketch and family tree for him based on forensic evidence saved from the crime scene.
“What you’re about to hear is a remarkable, remarkable story with an unanticipated ending that just happened a couple days ago,” Davis said at the press conference.
Lawrence, 37, was found dead with multiple stab wounds in the 8600 block of Reseca Lane around 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 20, 1994, according to Fairfax County Police Department Deputy Chief of Investigations Eli Cory.
Her body was discovered by a family friend who had gone to the house to check on her after her husband was unable to contact her while he was away on a work trip, Cory said, describing the scene as “heinous and tragic.”
Lawrence’s 2-year-old daughter was in the house at the time but found unharmed, police say.
Officers collected DNA evidence from the scene but found no matches to a potential suspect. While cold case detectives continued to investigate, it wasn’t until 2019 that technology had improved to the point where they decided to resubmit the DNA, according to Cory.
This time, they got a match.
“Pictures of Smerk from 1988 and 1998 were found and compared to a digital composite image created by Parabon NanoLabs,” the FCPD said. “Parabon NanoLabs…specializes in DNA phenotyping and genetic genealogy analysis: processes that predict physical appearance and biological relationships from unidentified DNA evidence.”
The detectives traveled north to Niskayuna, where Smerk lives and works as a software engineer. Upon encountering Smerk while he was taking out his trash, they talked to him, and he agreed “willingly and without question” to let them get a DNA swab, Cory said.
The detectives were preparing to return to Fairfax County with the sample when Smerk called, saying that he wanted to talk.
After turning himself in at the local police station, “he fully described his involvement,” Davis said. “He talked about killing Robin and some details that I won’t go into, but it was a full confession.”
At the time of Lawrence’s killing, Smerk was an active-duty servicemember working for the Army at Fort Myer — now known as Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall — in Arlington, police say.
Married with two children in high school, he has no other criminal history, according to Davis. Though he didn’t elaborate on a potential motive, the police chief said there’s no apparent relation between Smerk and Lawrence.
“He chose her seemingly randomly,” he said.
Smerk is currently in custody in Niskayuna, awaiting extradition to Fairfax County, Davis said.
Lawrence’s best friend and several family members, including her daughter, husband, sister and a cousin, attended the press conference where Davis announced Smerk’s arrest.
“We’re really honored by the fact that the family has chosen to join us today,” Davis said. “Their presence is beyond meaningful, and ultimately, we do this for them.”
Photo via FCPD/Twitter