Anaya Hernandez, 24, and Rivera Guzman, 48, were at work performing landscaping services when they were fatally shot around 7:30 a.m. on July 16. Police have linked the shootings to a burglary at the Assembly Alexandria apartments and said the landscapers were “innocent bystanders.”
“They had just left. I walked with my husband for two blocks, with his breakfast, some bread in a bag,” said Laura Hernandez, the wife and mother of the victims. “It wasn’t even 20 minutes; it was about 15 minutes when we got the call that he was on the ground.”
Police have revealed few details of what transpired, but the shooting has reverberated throughout Northern Virginia. The man police named as a suspect in the case — 27-year-old Francis Deonte Rose — had been released from law enforcement custody in neighboring Arlington County several months earlier after prosecutors dropped drug and weapons charges against him. The county’s police union and the Virginia Republican Party criticized the Democratic commonwealth’s attorney over the move — though it came after a judge suppressed evidence in the case, ruling that police had illegally searched Rose’s bag.
Rose has not been charged in the Alexandria slayings and is detained on charges including burglary and illegally entering a building. The Alexandria commonwealth attorney, Bryan Porter, said Thursday that further charges are not expected to be filed in the coming days. An attorney listed for Rose in court records for the illegal-entry charge, Taso R. Saunders, did not respond to requests for comment.
Rivera Guzman told his wife that two men had approached him about 2:30 p.m. the day before the shooting, she said, asking if he was the owner of the landscaping trucks and equipment stationed outside the apartments.
It seemed suspicious, Hernandez said, but “they thought it wasn’t about them.”
“We didn’t have any reason to fear them, because we didn’t have problems and we didn’t have money,” she said.
Police in D.C. and Arlington separately have charged Rose with carrying firearms illegally in the past, court records show. Rose was charged in 2019 for unlawful possession of a loaded, .45-caliber handgun that D.C. police recovered after he threw it to the ground during a foot chase. Rose pleaded guilty, but court records show he has not appeared for recent probation hearings.
In October 2020, Rose was charged in Arlington County for unlawfully possessing a firearm with intent to distribute heroin, for possessing the gun as a convicted nonviolent offender, possessing cocaine and possessing fentanyl with intent to distribute it. A little less than a year and a half later, the case would be dropped.
Court records show Rose was a passenger in a car that Arlington County police had pulled over because the registered owner had a suspended license. Police smelled marijuana and ordered the driver and Rose to exit the vehicle, according to court records.
Rose was wearing a Louis Vuitton cross-body bag strapped over his shoulder, and police told him to leave it in the car, according to a court transcript. Police found a loaded Glock handgun inside the bag and cocaine and fentanyl in his pockets, according to court records.
Rose was held in jail after he was charged. But in February, a judge in Arlington County ruled that the search that turned up the gun and drugs was unconstitutional. His defense attorney in that case, Molly Newton, successfully argued that police were not legally empowered to search the bag because it was “appended” to Rose, citing a 2002 decision by the Virginia Court of Appeals. Without probable cause to search anything but the car, the drugs in Rose’s pockets and the gun in his cross-body bag could not be admitted as evidence in court, Newton argued.
Arlington County Circuit Judge William T. Newman Jr. suppressed the evidence from the search, and noted he had a similar Louis Vuitton bag. Prosecutors immediately moved to drop the charges.
“Maybe it was a small crime he was guilty of, but now there are victims,” Hernandez said of Rose. “I know that if he’s in prison, my son and husband, they won’t come back. They’re gone forever. And even if it’s hard for me to believe, that’s how things are. I accept it. But this man can’t get out. He can’t get out.”
After Anaya Hernandez and Rivera Guzman were shot and killed, a Twitter account managed by the Virginia Republican Party blamed Arlington Commonwealth Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti (D). “Had she done her job, two people would be alive today,” the tweet said.
Dehghani-Tafti responded on Twitter, calling the landscapers’ deaths a tragedy and the accusation from the Virginia GOP “an outrageous and irresponsible lie.”
“The facts: we charged the defendant & obtained a grand jury indictment; we asked he be denied bond; he was held for 2 years pre trial; he moved to suppress the evidence; the court agreed, finding the police search violated the 4th amendment,” she tweeted last month.
The Arlington Coalition of Police in a news release criticized Dehghani-Tafti’s response and said she should have appealed Newman’s ruling or instituted training so that similar issues with police searches did not recur.
An Arlington County police officer testified at the hearing in February that officers in his department were trained to ask people to leave their bags inside any vehicle to be searched, “for officer safety reasons.” Asked whether Arlington police trained officers this way, a spokeswoman for the department, Ashley Savage, referred to the written policy for searches and seizures.
“Searches and seizures effected by officers shall be conducted reasonably and in accordance with the Fourth Amendment, applicable state law, and relevant case law, taking into account the totality of the circumstances of an incident in order to ensure an equitable and effective criminal justice process,” the police directive says.
“In the interest of the safety of everyone on scene, the passenger was separated from the bag,” Savage said of Rose’s search in 2020, adding that the police’s actions “were reasonable and prudent based on the information known at the time, however, we respect the ruling of Arlington County Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman.”
After Rose was released by Arlington authorities, another judge scheduled hearings to review Rose’s probation for his 2019 conviction for unlawful possession of a handgun in D.C. Prosecutors in D.C. filed a request in May to revoke or modify Rose’s probation, court records show. D.C. Superior Court Judge Michael Ryan scheduled a hearing to review Rose’s probation in June, but he failed to appear and “has been a loss of contact,” court records show.
An attorney for Rose told a D.C. court in April that Rose had “enrolled himself in a suboxone clinic in Arlington.” Court records in D.C. show that a judge shortened Rose’s sentence in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rose’s listed address in the records was in Alexandria — on the same block where Anaya Hernandez and Rivera Guzman were shot and killed.
Hernandez said death had stalked her family for years, even before arriving in the United States in 2018.
Her eldest son was killed in El Salvador, which the family then left due to rampant gang violence, she said. A second son was killed in Guatemala after Hernandez ignored threats that she should pay “rent” to the local gang that controlled the turf where she had set up her business, she said.
Rivera Guzman, her husband of 18 years, had adopted her boys and raised them from a young age, she said.
Now, her surviving son, Jeremias Ezequiel Anaya Hernandez, worries how the family will make ends meet. His brother, Juan Carlos, he said, supported their mother and was taking steps to establish his new life in the United States.
“He said, ‘I want to do everything in order. First, my house, my stuff. Then, God willing, my wife and my family,’” Anaya Hernandez said. “Those were his dreams.”