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Police are conducting a homicide investigation at The Villages at Falls Church (photo by Ed O’Carroll)

A man convicted of killing a woman at her Seven Corners condominium and setting her body on fire has been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

A Fairfax County Circuit Court judge handed down two consecutive life sentences to Richard Montano, 48, today (Friday) after a jury convicted him last October of murdering Silvia “Kelly” Vaca Abacay on Aug. 10, 2022, the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office announced.

At the time of the murder, Vaca Abacay and her husband were staying in a condominium in The Villages at Falls Church on Willston Place owned by Montano’s ex-girlfriend, who broke up with him that July, according to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

“The extreme level of violence and complete disregard for human life demonstrated by Richard Montano is of a level rarely seen in Fairfax County,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said. “The loss to Ms. Vaca Abacay’s family and loved ones is unimaginable. There is nothing that can undo her needless, senseless death, but as of today, the defendant will not be able to harm anyone else in our community.”

In the afternoon of Aug. 10, 2022, Montano “was lying in wait” in the apartment, presumably looking for his former girlfriend, but when he encountered Vaca Abacay instead, he stabbed her multiple times “and set her body on fire in an attempt to conceal the murder,” Descano’s office says.

According to a press release, prosecutors told the jury during last year’s trial that Montano was caught entering the condo by a neighbor’s home surveillance camera:

A neighbor’s Ring camera footage captured Montano entering the apartment without Ms. Via Rojas’ knowledge multiple times in the preceding month, including his last entry just 10 days before the murder occurred. The same neighbor called 911 four times the afternoon of August 10 after hearing screaming and banging from across the hall. The medical examiner determined that Ms. Vaca Abacay died from multiple sharp- and blunt force wounds before her body was set on fire.

Montano was arrested at his home in Arlington on Aug. 10, 2022. He initially also faced a burglary charge, but that was dropped at a preliminary hearing in the fall of 2022.

Descano’s office says the judge considered Montano’s apparent refusal to take responsibility for his actions, the premeditated nature of the murder and attempt to conceal his crime by setting the body on fire when determining the sentencing.

The charges of first-degree murder and arson of an occupied dwelling both carried potential life sentences.

Photo by Ed O’Carroll/Twitter

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Sen. Tim Kaine and Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano talk at Mackenzie’s Tunes and Tonics for a press conference on the county’s Taking Root diversion program (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Instead of jail-time, a restaurant job could be waiting for some individuals facing non-violent criminal charges in Fairfax County if they finish a newly launched job training program.

The Pathfinder Kitchen initiative unveiled Monday (Jan. 8) by the Fairfax County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney builds on the office’s nascent Taking Root diversion program, which offers case management, mental health and substance use assessments, affordable housing and other services to people accused of non-violent crimes in lieu of incarceration.

Starting this spring, participants will get an opportunity to learn culinary skills at Mackenzie’s Tunes and Tonics, which opened in Fairfax City last June, and earn the certification needed to work in the food service industry.

Like the county’s other diversion programs, Taking Root and its new culinary training option are designed to address the underlying causes of crime — in this case, poverty and barriers to employment — so individuals who’ve entered the criminal justice system are less likely to return.

“Pathfinder Kitchen is actually the next generation of that, actually getting people into restaurant training with certificates so they can get a job and build a career,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said. “That’s really, really important for public safety. It’s also the right thing to do.”

Launched in April 2022 by the prosecutors’ office and the nonprofit Opportunities, Alternatives & Resources (OAR), Taking Root focuses on people charged with a non-violent offense who are experiencing an “underlying issue,” such as poverty or drug addiction, that could be eased with treatment or social services.

Descano says his office doesn’t have “hard and fast” eligibility rules for determining who to recommend for the program, but most participants are on their first or second time in the court system, and their diversion plan must be approved by a judge.

So far, 100 people have been referred to Taking Root, and 20 of them have graduated — a milestone that the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, OAR and other supporters, including Sen. Tim Kaine, celebrated at Mackenzie’s (3950 University Drive, Suite 210) on Monday.

According to Descano, the idea for Pathfinder Kitchen was developed with Mackenzie’s owner Josh Alexander, who also chairs the Old Town Fairfax Business Association (OTFBA) board of directors.

“He was telling us about the need to get more people into the restaurant business, into the industry, and we just started to…have this dialogue and said, ‘Hey, we have a crop of people who [could help], if you’re willing to give people second chances’…and they were very receptive,” Descano recalled.

Also supported by the nonprofit Britepaths, which provides supportive services, the pilot program is funded by a Fairfax City grant, and graduates who get their ServSafe certification will be placed in jobs with participating restaurants, all of which are currently in the city.

Reflecting on Taking Root’s first full year of operations, OAR Diversion Program Manager Lula Kelly said the ability to work with each participant based on their specific needs is key to the program’s success. Read More

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(Updated at 10:55 a.m. on 11/10/2023) About 40% of registered Fairfax County voters participated in this year’s general election, which decided state and local representatives who will shape policies on issues from abortion to land use in the coming years.

As of Friday (Nov. 10), 308,855 of the county’s 787,171 registered voters cast a ballot — a 39.2% turnout rate, according to unofficial results from the Virginia Department of Elections.

(Correction: The Virginia Department of Elections results previously indicated that 382,573 ballots had been cast in the election, a 48.6% turnout rate. This story has been revised to reflect the updated numbers.)

That falls short of the 44.3% turnout and 315,836 ballots cast in 2019, when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, school board and all General Assembly seats were last up for grabs.

However, it still exceeds the turnout seen in earlier election cycles dating back to the beginning of this century, which hovered around 32% with a low of 30.3% in 2015, per county returns.

Eric Spicer, Fairfax County’s director of elections and general registrar, declined to comment on this year’s turnout numbers or speculate on “why they may differ from past years.”

The general election on Tuesday (Nov. 7) continued a trend of increased early voting that began after Virginia expanded absentee voting to all registered voters in 2020. This year, the county received 36,859 mail ballots on election night alone — more than the total number of absentee votes (36,584) in the 2019 general election.

There were 64,371 ballots cast through early voting, which ran from Sept. 22 to Saturday, Nov. 4, though the vast majority of voters still went to in-person polls on Election Day. Mail-in ballots will be counted until noon on Monday, Nov. 13, as long as they were postmarked on or before Nov. 7.

All election results, including for the still-to-be-determined Vienna Town council race, will be certified as final on Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Democrats celebrate near-sweep

The status quo largely held in Fairfax County, at least in terms of political parties, as candidates endorsed by the Democrats won every state contest and almost every local contest on the ballot.

Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano were both reelected with no official challengers, though Descano’s opponent for the Democratic nomination, Ed Nuttall, endorsed a write-in campaign.

Descano’s victory was matched in Arlington by Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, who also first took office in 2020 on promises of criminal justice reform. Their Loudoun County counterpart, Buta Biberaj, however, is trailing by around 1,000 votes.

“Thank you to the people of Fairfax County for choosing me to serve another four years,” Descano said in a statement highlighting his reform efforts. “…I’ve still got a lot of fight in me — and we’ve got the momentum on our side. I’m eager to keep working for the people of Fairfax, and to realize a future where safety and justice do walk hand-in-hand.”

Chris Falcon, a deputy clerk for the Arlington Circuit Court, defeated retiring Fairfax County Circuit Court Clerk John Frey’s chief deputy clerk and chosen successor, Gerarda Culipher, with nearly 63% of the vote. Falcon has pledged to make circuit court cases accessible through Virginia’s statewide case information system.

With Democrats set to control both the state Senate and House of Delegates, the Fairfax County Democratic Committee characterized the results as “a clear rejection of the radical Republican agenda” in favor of “abortion healthcare rights, public education, gun safety, voting rights, and more.” Read More

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Defense attorney Ed Nuttall at his campaign announcement for Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney in February (via ABC7)

The official ballots for next week’s general election identify just one candidate for the job of top prosecutor in Fairfax County, but a group that identifies itself as victims’ rights supporters hopes to push another man into the office instead.

Defense attorney Ed Nuttall, who lost the Democratic primary in June to incumbent Steve Descano, officially endorsed a write-in campaign last week that seeks to make him the next Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney.

According to a press release, the former county prosecutor agreed to publicly back the write-in push on Oct. 24 after the Fairfax County Democratic Committee removed him from the party, allegedly for attending a Brain Foundation fundraiser on Oct. 18 that featured Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity and Sully District supervisor candidate Keith Elliott — both Republicans.

“If the work of the write-in group is successful, Ed Nuttall would accept the job as Commonwealth’s Attorney serving Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax,” the Oct. 28 press release said.

Nuttall said the FCDC had also urged him “to denounce the write-in campaign on my behalf started by a victims rights group,” but he “refused to do so.”

“I was told more than once by more than one person to ‘resign for the good of the party,'” Nuttall said in an Oct. 25 Facebook post. “I chose not to do so because I’ve always put people over party. Those who know me know that disability rights and public safety have always been my passion, personally and professionally. I won’t let politics dictate how I act or whom I choose to work with, no matter the political price.”

The FCDC declined to comment when contacted by FFXnow, but chair Bryan Graham told WJLA that Nuttall’s attendance at a fundraiser supporting Republican candidates violated his pledge to the committee.

A spokesperson for Descano’s campaign also declined to comment.

According to its website, the write-in campaign for Nuttall was organized by “Fairfax County and Fairfax City voters” who supported his candidacy in the July 20 primary, which he lost by just over 10,000 votes.

“We waited for a couple of months for the current Commonwealth’s Attorney to implement action items brought to his attention during the primary campaign,” the campaign says. “However, that office continues to be disappointing and being politicized as a referendum.”

Changes sought by the group include oversight for the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, procedural training for prosecutors, and more communication with victims during plea deal negotiations. Spokesperson Scott Birdwell says the recommendations were compiled by 10 families of crime victims after a town hall in May.

The website says the campaign wasn’t authorized by any candidate or political group, but it has been backed by the Fairfax County Republican Committee, which held a rally on Oct. 3 with Herrity, Southern States Police Benevolent Association Fairfax County President Steve Monahan and GOP-endorsed at-large school board candidate Saundra Davis.

Nuttall didn’t “attend the rally as it was held during the day,” according to the Fairfax County Times. Read More

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Fairfax County Courthouse (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

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.

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Police say Brandon Wims was shot multiple times while in a car at the Old Mill Gardens apartments in Mount Vernon (via Google Maps)

A Mount Vernon man will be tried for murder after allegedly shooting and killing Brandon Wims outside the Old Mill Gardens apartments in October.

A grand jury indicted 43-year-old Kyjuan Trott-McLean today (Monday) for murder and three weapons charges, according to Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano.

“The death of Brandon Wims is a tragedy,” Descano said in a statement. “I want to thank our Fairfax County Police for their dedication to this case and the policework that led to the arrest of the defendant.”

Trott-McLean was arrested on Dec. 1, 2022, almost two months after Fairfax County police identified him as their suspect in Wims’s fatal shooting.

According to the Fairfax County Police Department, Wims was shot multiple times around 7 a.m. on Oct. 2, 2022 while sitting in a car with two other people in the 5800 block of St Gregorys Lane.

The driver took Wims to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he died, while the vehicle’s two other occupants were treated for non-life-threatening injuries, police said at the time.

The FCPD said a preliminary investigation suggested that Trott-McLean had approached the car on foot and fired into the vehicle after an “altercation.” He left the scene in a silver Nissan Maxima.

Police advertised a $11,000 reward for Trott-McLean before he was arrested in the 3800 block of Colonial Avenue near Woodley Hills Elementary School following a brief vehicle pursuit.

In addition to the murder charge, Trott-McLean has been charged with using a firearm in commission of a felony, possessing a firearm as a felon, and concealing a firearm as a felon.

A court date for the case will be set on Thursday (July 20), according to Descano’s office.

Photo via Google Maps

Fairfax County Courthouse (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Life in prison awaits the man responsible for the 2016 killings of 22-year-old Springfield residents Kedest Simeneh and Henok Yohannes.

Alexandria resident Yohannes Nessibu, 29, was sentenced to life in prison today (Friday) after being convicted of first-degree murder and manslaughter for shooting the couple during a drug deal, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano announced.

Nessibu was convicted on Aug. 31 of murdering Simeneh, a charge that resulted in the life sentence. He was also given a 10-year prison sentence for voluntary manslaughter in Yohannes’s death, for which he was convicted in March.

An additional 8-year sentence was handed down for two charges of using a firearm in commission of a felony. All of the sentences were the “maximum penalty for each of the charges,” according to Descano’s office.

“The families of Kedest and Henok have faced a great tragedy with the loss of their children and siblings at a young age,” Descano said in a statement. “Their trauma has only been exacerbated by the unusual length of this case, which progressed for seven years due to the need for international extradition, separate trials, and the pandemic.”

According to prosecutors, a group that included Nessibu and Simeneh went to Yohannes’s home in Springfield on the night of Dec. 22, 2016 to buy marijuana.

Prosecutors showed during trial that after a dispute over payment, Nessibu shot Yohannes twice in the back of the head, killing him. He then fled the scene with the same group and shot Kedest Simeneh later that night, leaving her body outside a Burke residence. Evading investigators, Nessibu flew to Ethiopia the next morning, where he remained until he was extradited in 2019.

A Fairfax County grand jury indicted Nessibu in March 2017, but police weren’t able to get custody of him until May 3, 2019.

Simeneh and Yohannes were dating at the time of their deaths and both attended Northern Virginia Community College. A health care worker, Simeneh was described by her family as “quick to give hugs, funny and generous,” while Yohannes had been “a soccer star” at West Springfield High School and aspired to open his own business, the Washington Post reported in 2017.

Descano called Nessibu’s sentencing today “a just outcome for the community.”

“Now that this case has come to a close, I hope that the families are able to begin the path towards healing,” he said.

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The new red flag orders dashboard as of 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 14 (via Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney)

Fairfax County residents will now be able to access some data related to local temporary gun removal cases.

On June 13 (Tuesday), Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano released to the public a continuously updated digital dashboard that tracks ongoing and past Emergency Substantial Risk Orders — known more commonly as Red Flag Orders — as well as view demographic breakdowns of those subjected to ESROs by race, gender and age.

Instituted in 2020, Virginia’s red flag law gives the Fairfax County Police Department and Commonwealth’s Attorney the authority to temporarily remove a gun or guns from someone’s possession if they have probable cause that the individual poses a ‘substantial risk’ to themselves or others.

When contacted by community or family members seeking to initiate a red flag order under a civil order, law enforcement will begin an independent investigation to determine whether one is appropriate.

If an order is granted, individuals are barred from purchasing, possessing or transporting any firearms for up to 14 days with opportunities for extension.

Fairfax County is the only jurisdiction in the state with a team dedicated to red flag orders, Descano told FFXNow by email. The county is the source of 75% of red flag orders in Virginia, he said when announcing the new dashboard.

The dashboard is intended to improve public communications and demystify the court processes for the general public, similar to one on bond decisions that the prosecutor’s office launched last year.

“We wanted this dashboard to bring transparency and awareness to the community about this law and that it can be a tool that saves lives,” Descano wrote. “By showing that it is being used, I hope Fairfax residents will know that if they have a dangerous situation, they can pick up the phone and get help.”

In addition to allowing community members to be more knowledgable about Virginia’s red flag law, the dashboard aims to be a useful tool for prosecutors in guiding their work.

“The other important role of the dashboard is how it informs my prosecutors’ decision-making,” Descano wrote. “We’re using this internally to track cases and make sure nothing falls through the cracks, and that’s a key piece of our day-to-day work on these cases. We have about nine months of data now that we’re working with, and as we get more data on Red Flag Orders, we’ll be able to identify trends that may help us and law enforcement further protect the community and handle these cases.”

The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office has opened 108 red flag cases since May 2022, 92% of them against men, according to the dashboard.

The data will expand over time as Descano’s office works to incorporate more and varied trends and demographics into the board, Public Information Officer Laura Birnbaum says.

“There’s a lot more in this story to tell about how these orders are coming to the police, who’s initiating them, who are the respondents and what kind of situations are we seeing these these orders come out. There’s more data and more trends to pull apart,” Birnbaum said. “…Are there times of year where we see more of these and others? What does that help inform us about other ways we could do gun violence prevention work?”

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The Fairfax County Courthouse (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A Manassas resident who fatally shot a man and hit a woman with a leaf blower at the Chantilly Park Shopping Center in 2019 has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and malicious wounding, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano announced Friday (April 28).

Steven Green, 55, faced a trial in March for the murder of 30-year-old Chantilly resident Miguel Angel Leiva Hernandez, but that ended with a hung jury.

With the jury about evenly split, no one on the victims’ side wanted to go through the experience of another trial, according to Laura Birnbaum, a spokesperson for the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.

“Having been through it and seeing how the evidence came out and how the jury reacted to it, there just wasn’t any appetite to do that again, so we ended up with this outcome,” Birnbaum said. “…This is guaranteed accountability. It addresses the incident, and all of the victims are happy with it.”

According to the commonwealth’s attorney, Green was cleaning the shopping center’s parking lot on May 24, 2019 when he got into “an altercation” with Myra Osorio Cordero outside a restaurant.

Green used his leaf blowers to send debris towards Osorio Cordero and, after they exchanged words, hit her in the face with one of the leaf blowers. When Leiva Hernandez saw Osorio Cordero bleeding profusely, he followed Green into the parking lot, where a physical struggle ensued and Green shot him once in the chest, killing him.

Osorio Cordero survived the encounter.

According to a police report at the time, Green remained at the scene in the 14500 block of Lee Jackson Memorial Highway until police arrived. He was charged and tried for murder, malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Green claimed self-defense at the March trial in Fairfax County Circuit Court, according to NBC4.

To secure a guilty plea, prosecutors amended the murder charge to manslaughter and dropped the firearm charge. A sentencing hearing will be held on Sept. 1.

“It’s always a tragedy when a young person dies, and nothing can bring Miguel back to his family and loved ones,” Descano said in a statement on Friday. “As prosecutors, our job is to put on a fair trial, and we respect the original jury’s serious deliberation of the evidence in this case. Today’s agreement guarantees a just outcome for the community.”

Descano’s office also announced Friday that 22-year-old Lorton resident Ronnie Marshall had been sentenced to life in prison for shooting and killing Army colonel and doctor Edward McDaniel Jr. and his wife, Brenda McDaniel, a retired Army colonel and a nurse, at their home in Springfield in 2021.

Steve Descano and Ed Nuttall (staff photo by Jay Westcott and via ABC 7)

The primary for Fairfax County commonwealth’s attorney may be the most cutthroat race on the ballot in a year when local voters will also choose representatives on the Board of Supervisors, school board and General Assembly.

On Friday (April 21), Democratic incumbent Steve Descano and challenger Ed Nuttall appeared together on WAMU’s “The Politics Hour,” the weekly radio show hosted by Kojo Nnamdi and Tom Sherwood, and the conversation got spicy.

At one point, Descano accused Nuttall of associating with “MAGA, antisemitic conspiracy theorists.” Nuttall responded by calling Descano “a liar” and “incompetent.”

There was also considerable back-and-forth about each other’s work backgrounds, current crime rates, office morale, management styles, and political affiliations.

In between arguments and personal attacks, though, the candidates managed to work in some policy debate, disagreeing on how the commonwealth’s attorney’s office (CA’s office) should handle cases involving police officers, where to allocate county funding, and how to best support victims of violent crimes.

Descano and Nuttle did find common ground on some issues. Both agreed they wouldn’t prosecute residents for getting an abortion or purchasing the pill mifepristone if those health care options were ever limited or outright banned.

The two also praised the Board of Supervisors for its continued funding of the top county prosecutor’s office over the last two budget cycles, though they diverged on how exactly the money should be used.

But the agreements were overshadowed by discord and name-calling from the two Democratic candidates.

One of the main areas of conversation was how the CA’s office works with victims of violent crimes. On his campaign website, Nuttall pledges to hire a “victim services liaison” if elected to ensure victims’ concerns are heard — a part of the job that he says Descano has “mismanaged.”

“There are zero communications between the victim services department and the police department and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office,” Nuttall said. “They don’t get along. They don’t communicate. He doesn’t return their phone calls. He doesn’t return emails.”

When asked if he believes Descano is doing this purposefully, Nuttall said it’s more about not knowing how to do the job.

“I think he doesn’t know how to handle crime. I think he mismanages the office. I think he’s incompetent,” the challenger said.

Descano countered that he’s made the office more professional with more hires, while improving its electronic database. He’s focused on diversion programs, which he says have made community members safer and more trusting of the legal system. Descano also highlighted a bond data dashboard released last year as evidence of his office’s transparency.

“What we’ve done is…made [the office] run more efficiently, made it run better, made it run better for victims,” Descano said. “One thing that really bothers me about this race is that Ed Nuttall…is being the Republican that he is and has taken Republican talking points and, quite frankly disgustingly, is using victims in a way that is pretty gross.” Read More

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