Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Shootout witnesses mum

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Police investigating a shootout in a Gaithersburg community last week are being stymied by a lack of cooperation.

Attempts to interview potential witnesses in the State Court shooting that left more than 20 bullets lodged in two townhouses and a parked car at about 2:30 a.m. on July 8 have not been completely successful, said Capt. Alan Goldberg, commander of the county police’s 6th District station in Gaithersburg.

‘‘We have people that are less than cooperative,” he said.

No one was injured in the State Court incident, which happened in the Newport Estates community off Girard Street. The incident did not occur in the Saybrooke community, as The Gazette reported last week. Saybrooke is separated from Newport Estates by a roughly quarter-mile stretch of Kelley Park.

No arrests have been made in the case, which police believe is tied to a shooting incident on Ridgeline Drive in Montgomery Village just a few hours earlier in which several shots hit a car, said Officer Melanie Hadley, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County Police.

However, Goldberg said several people believed to be involved have been identified, and investigators need to talk to witnesses or others with information about the shootings to move the case forward.

‘‘Our biggest roadblock sometimes is that people are reluctant to call because people are really not sure what they heard or what they saw,” he said. ‘‘The reality is we really do need people coming [to us] when they see or hear something suspicious. ... That’s really what we need at this point is any little bit of information, even if it seems insignificant.”

Some of the people involved in the case may be gang members or have gang ties, but police are not calling the shootings gang-related, Goldberg said.

‘‘We don’t believe it’s a rival gang or turf situation,” he said. ‘‘... We think they were shooting at each other.... They were shooting at people, or to make a point.”

Police have been called to State Court several times in recent months, Goldberg said. ‘‘We have had problems there, but we’ve had problems in a lot of communities,” he said. ‘‘It doesn’t matter how nice your neighborhood is, you have one or two people that cause trouble, they tend to draw trouble.”

Manuel Barahona, the 18-year-old illegal immigrant and MS-13 gang member charged last month with first-degree murder in the slaying of Longyuan Wang, a popular waiter at the Red Robin Restaurant at Lakeforest mall, was a resident of Newport Estates. Wang was killed in Montgomery Village last month.

Police do not believe Wang’s death is related to last week’s shootings, Goldberg said. The possible suspects involved in last week’s incidents are non-Hispanic and are not connected to MS-13.

Patrols have been stepped up in Montgomery Village around Ridgeline Drive and in areas around Newport Estates, according to Goldberg and Gaithersburg Police Chief John King.

‘‘We plan on taking a zero tolerance for violations of the law in relation to that area,” Goldberg said. ‘‘We really patrol those areas pretty heavily.”

County police have also responded in recent months to other reports of random gunfire, including a spate of incidents over a six-month period in the Flower Hill area that ran into late April, Goldberg said. SWAT specialists were brought in to assist that investigation. No arrests were made in those incidents.

Police determined that some of the gunfire came from people illegally shooting into a berm hill for target practice, he said. Other sounds were determined to be fireworks or cars backfiring; others remain unexplained. Police have no reason to believe last week’s gunfire is related, Goldberg said.

Anyone with information about last week’s shootings should call the 5th⁄6th District Investigative Unit at 301-840-2347 or the 6th District station at 240-773-5700.