After 4th murder of 2019, Hyattsville residents push for answers

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In the wake of Hyattsville’s fourth firearm homicide since January, city officials attempted to assuage community concerns during a meeting held August, 23, 2019.

The meeting came in the wake of the murder of 26-year-old Yuri Echavarria Jr., on Aug. 13, 2019 inside his apartment building on the 4200 block of Oglethorpe Street.

During the meeting, led by Hyattsville Chief of Police Amal Awad at the First Baptist Church on 42nd Avenue, Awad provided an overview of details of the incident, much of which had already been disclosed. She noted her officers were not handling the case directly. All homicide investigations in Prince George’s County are carried out by the Prince George’s County Police Department’s homicide unit, even those that occur in areas with municipal police departments. Twice during the meeting, Awad said her department expects to receive a minimum of two notifications from county police if the investigation proceeds successfully, one alerting her department to the identity of a suspect, the other alerting her to the arrest of an identified suspect.

Awad also emphasized to residents that 2019’s three previous firearm homicides in Hyattsville have been the result of interpersonal conflicts and occurred within or near residences. The point: these are not random crimes. These are targeted, the result of disputes that escalated to deadly violence.

“Detectives do not believe this was a random incident,” said Awad, speaking of Echavarria‘s murder.

The missing subtext, though, was how interpersonal conflicts in America can be so deadly. The answer is the easy access to firearms in this country. This aspect was not broached, by audience nor by officials, during the meeting.

After the meeting Hyattsville City Councilor Kevin ward addressed this issue.

“My view is we need to focus on a holistic reduction in violent crime, which includes access to firearms,” said Ward.

Awad said Hyattsville city officials were exploring the purchase of portable video surveillance systems to augment its existing system of stationary surveillance cameras.

Awad also indicated her department is facing a staffing shortage caused by a lack of police applicants.

Early in the meeting, some of the audience discourse took tangents into concerns about speeding in the neighborhood, parking restrictions, and the tenor of neighborhood dogs. That drew the objection of Hyattsville resident Devonna Burrows, friend of Echavarria.

“I have to bury my friend,” said Burrowes. “I hear a lot about speed bumps and parking and parking and cameras. I want to know what’s being done to solve this.”

Burrowes also complained that her attempts to provide information via a phone tip line were stymied by a full inbox on the receiving end.

Nicole Ramirez, who lives in the building where Echavarria was murdered, said she hoped to learn more about the investigation from the meeting. She also urged the property management company to install locks on the doors of the apartment complex buildings, noting that Echavarria was shot in his apartment building hallway. She didn’t feel as if her suggestion was taken seriously during the meeting by representatives of the apartment management company, who demurred the idea by saying anyone who wanted to get into a building would be able to, locks or no.

“I don’t feel like I was heard very well by the management company,” said Ramirez. “But the community came up and said they thought it was a really great idea.”

Also in attendance were City Councilors Bart Lawrence, Kevin Ward, Carianna Suiter, Robert Croslin, and city Administrator Tracey Douglas.

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