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Police on scene of a carjacking in Pentagon City (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Carjackings appear to be rising again in Arlington and across the D.C. area.

An uptick between 2019 and 2020 spurred Arlington County Police Department to focus prevention efforts on robbery, burglary and destruction of property incidents. Increased enforcement in 2021 resulted in fewer carjackings, after ACPD made two significant carjacking arrests, per ACPD’s 2021 annual report.

“The combination of the collaboration and the education and proactive work that ACPD did reduce the carjackings and then reduced the stealing of cars in general,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, who participated in a regional effort to crack down on carjackings during that time. “With that reduction, less collaboration was needed, but we are working together to make sure that we’re doing the same coordination as before with other jurisdictions.”

But now the crime — in which a person steals a victim’s car by force, threat or intimidation — seems to be ticking up again, with five carjackings in January 2023 compared to zero carjackings in January 2022 and 14 throughout the 2022 calendar year, according to stats provided by ACPD.

Meanwhile, across the river in D.C., one Arlingtonian was carjacked near Union Station and another resident’s Rolls Royce was stolen near Logan Circle, according to police reports.

Dehghani-Tafti said the social science data shows the certainty of being caught is the strongest deterrent from people committing crimes, but deterrence can be harder with carjacking.

“These can be hard crimes to solve because people get away so fast and cars change hands so quickly, they take a lot of collaboration and coordination and proactive action,” she said.

Law enforcement and the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney say they’re devoting more resources to combat these crimes.

ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage says the department “continues to deploy increased police resources, to include both visible and non-visible assets, in Crystal City and the surrounding neighborhoods to address this crime trend.”

“The Arlington County Police Department remains a member of the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force which coordinates on offenses such as carjackings,” she said. “As part of our ongoing investigative efforts into these incidents, detectives are working collaboratively with our regional law enforcement partners to share information, identify trends, apprehend suspects and hold them accountable for their actions.”

Dehghani-Tafti, meanwhile, is meeting with a division of Virginia State Police on vehicle thefts, generally.

Two units in the VSP Fairfax Division are “partnering to take a more concentrated and analytical look at vehicle thefts within the Northern Virginia region,” state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said. “This is not uncommon for state police to do, as we consistently look for ways to address any crime patterns that develop and identify ways to strategically address and resolve them.”

Fact patterns 

Of the five reported carjackings last month in Arlington, four were in the Crystal City and Pentagon City areas — where many such incidents were concentrated during the last spree — and three involved BMWs.

“In recent cases, carjacking suspects have generally approached victims as they were inside their idling parked vehicles, brandished a firearm and demanded the victim’s keys and property,” per an Arlington police press release, sent in response to the uptick. “In some cases, the suspects approach the victim by pulling alongside them in a vehicle, which is later determined to be stolen. Reported incidents in Arlington have generally involved multiple suspects.”

While some are threatened with guns, other victims are attacked when they exit their cars.

On Jan. 27, a Columbia Pike resident was exiting his car near Union Station in D.C. to let out an Uber customer when he was attacked and the attacker drove away in his car. The victim and another driver idling behind him chased the alleged carjacker for nearly a mile. Stuck behind a dump truck, the suspect reversed the stolen car and hit the pursuing car. The duo apprehended the suspect but ultimately let go, citing fear for their safety and a growing crowd, according to a Metropolitan Police Department incident report.

The car was later returned to the owner.

Arlington police issued the following safety tips for residents in response to the recent spate of carjackings.

  • When inside your vehicle, keep your doors locked and windows up
  • Exit your vehicle and continue to your destination promptly after parking
  • Be aware of your surroundings when entering and exiting your vehicle
  • Limit your use of devices that may distract you, such as cell phones and headphones
  • Don’t leave items unattended or visible in your vehicle

One woman’s story

Some two-and-a-half years ago, then-Alexandria resident Lauren Brown was similarly attacked while waiting to turn left onto S. Glebe Road near the Harris Teeter in Potomac Yard. She told ARLnow her experience as a cautionary tale.

A group of 18-year-olds in a stolen car hit Brown. After pleading with her not to call the police — with whom she was already on the phone — they drove away. They returned, and one occupant hit her while the other got in her car and they drove away.

“It’s a really crazy thing what adrenaline does to your body,” she said. “I didn’t feel [the injury] until a few days later.”

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Wakefield High School this morning (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Police and medics have been dispatched to Wakefield High School at least twice for students experiencing suspected substance abuse-related issues since Tuesday’s fatal overdose.

The dispatches seem to point to administrators taking an extra-cautious approach to the medical treatment of students observed to be under the likely influence of drugs and alcohol in schools.

Arlington County police and medics were dispatched around lunchtime today for what was initially described as a possible overdose. The dispatch suggested that a 14-year-old student was breathing normally but exhibiting signs of impairment.

“At approximately 12:10 p.m. on February 6, police were dispatched to the 1300 block of S. Dinwiddie Street for the report of a possible overdose,” Arlington police spokeswoman Ashley Savage confirmed to ARLnow. “The preliminary investigation indicates this is a possession of alcohol by minor incident. The patient did not require transport to the hospital. The investigation ongoing.”

“They had to call EMS out of an abundance of caution,” said Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia.

Medics were also dispatched to the school during dismissal this past Thursday, following an extended lockdown for a potentially armed trespasser, for what was initially feared to be a student overdose.

“At approximately 3:23 p.m. on February 2, police responded to Wakefield High School for the report of an overdose,” said Savage. “The investigation determined this was not an overdose incident, but it did involve possession of a suspected controlled substance by a juvenile.  Petitions for a narcotics violation were obtained for the juvenile. In accordance with Virginia Code, additional details are not releasable due to the juvenile’s age.”

It’s not just Wakefield and not just high schools that are experiencing drug-related issues in Arlington. Around the same time as today’s incident, police were dispatched to Kenmore Middle School for a report that administrators had discovered possible drug paraphernalia.

Parent groups have been sounding the alarm about drug use in Arlington Public Schools for at least a year. A twin epidemic of opioid use and mental health issues have led to the deaths of at least three APS students since Christmas. Parents marched outside Wakefield and spoke out at the School Board meeting last week following the death of the 14-year-old student who suffered the apparent overdose on Tuesday.

Wakefield principal Chris Willmore told WJLA that it’s unclear whether drugs in general are being used more often by students, but said that the nature of the drugs being used has changed.

“I don’t know if it’s gotten worse in terms of the number of kids that are using illicit drugs,” Willmore said in an article published by the station today. “It’s the deadliness of the fentanyl now that’s the most concerning.”

The national epidemic of fentanyl-related deaths has been blamed, at least in part, on accidental overdoses stemming from the powerful synthetic opioid being added to fake prescription drugs. Users believe they’re taking oxycodone or even the focus-enhancing drug Adderall but instead get a crudely-made counterfeit containing a fatal dosage of fentanyl.

WJLA’s article noted that Arlington police have no plans for sweeps of schools using drug-sniffing dogs.

Arlington County police say they are actively reaching out to and engaging with the younger population, building relationships, and that there’s a youth outreach unit.

When 7News asked if narcotics-trained K9s might be searching the schools for fentanyl, a spokesperson said the county does have these K9s available but there are no plans to use them at schools.

An email sent by Willmore to Wakefield families after this afternoon’s emergency response is below.

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Arlington police car at night (file photo courtesy Kevin Wolf)

A pair of suspects, armed with a knife and a gun, robbed a man along Columbia Pike early Sunday, prompting an aerial search.

The robbery was reported just after 2:30 a.m. on the 3700 block of Columbia Pike.

“Upon arrival, it was determined the victim was exiting his parked vehicle when two unknown male suspects approached him, brandished a firearm and a knife, and demanded his personal property,” Arlington County police said today in a crime report. “The suspects then stole the victim’s wallet and jewelry and assaulted him before fleeing the scene on foot. Officers canvassed the area and an aerial search was conducted with the assistance of a police helicopter which yielded negative results.”

No injuries were reported, ACPD said.

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Police presence at Wakefield High School Thursday afternoon (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Wakefield High School is back open, with heavy hearts and extra vigilance.

Last week a student died in the hospital two days after an apparent overdose in a school bathroom. This is the first day of school since his passing.

The school was also locked down Thursday and then closed Friday due to a potentially armed trespasser who was reported to be seeking out a specific student as part of an ongoing dispute, leading to an arrest.

Arlington County police have increased patrols around the school today, with an extra focus on arrival and dismissal times, according to an email to families obtained by ARLnow. That’s in response to rumors of new threats against students circulating on social media.

Parents tell us that the rumors have students worried about a shooting at the school. They say that the trespassing stemmed from a dispute between two gangs and may be related to a recent shooting in Arlington.

“I am not sending my student to school today,” one parent told us this morning.

Another parent, however, noted that the apparent social media threat could also be interpreted simply as a reference to a music video.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the ACPD will provide increased patrols around Wakefield [Monday] including at arrival and dismissal,” Wakefield principal Chris Willmore said in the email to families. “The safety and security of our students and staff is our priority and we will keep you informed of any developments as we are able.”

No marked police units were spotted around the school as of 9:30 a.m., according to ARLnow staff photographer Jay Westcott.

Police have only described the events leading to the trespassing as “an ongoing dispute” between the suspect and a “juvenile victim.”

The full email to families is below.

Dear Wakefield Families:

We are aware of concerning social media posts circulating. The Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) and APS Safety and Security staff have been alerted and are investigating. Out of an abundance of caution, the ACPD will provide increased patrols around Wakefield tomorrow including at arrival and dismissal. The safety and security of our students and staff is our priority and we will keep you informed of any developments as we are able.

I understand this continues to pose a significant strain on our wellbeing as a community. We will have additional counseling support available tomorrow and will structure our day to incorporate community circle opportunities for students to share their thoughts and feelings if they need assistance.

If your student needs to speak with their counselor, please reach out to the Wakefield counseling office […]

Sincerely,

Dr. Chris Willmore
Principal

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File photo

(Updated at 1 p.m.) A man was shot in front of a lounge on Columbia Pike early this morning, continuing a string of violent incidents.

The shooting happened just before 1 a.m. in front of Caspi, located at the corner of Columbia Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive, next to the Arlington Cinema Drafthouse. It followed a dispute inside the lounge, according to police.

Initial reports suggest that a man was shot multiple times, including in the lower torso, and that a dark-colored Audi or BMW was seen speeding away after. There was at least one bullet hole in the window of Caspi, but no one inside was injured, according to scanner traffic.

Responding officers called for backup due to a large crowd around the scene.

Arlington County police say the man suffered serious injuries and was rushed to a local hospital. He remains hospitalized in critical condition.

It is unclear whether this morning’s shooting is related to recent incidents in and around Arlington, including:

ACPD issued the following press release about the shooting just before 1 p.m.

The Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit is investigating a shooting that took place on Columbia Pike in the early morning hours of February 4, 2023.

At approximately 12:53 a.m., police were dispatched to the report of a shooting in the 2900 block of Columbia Pike. Responding officers located an adult male victim on the sidewalk suffering from gunshot wounds and immediately began rendering aid. Medics transported the victim to an area hospital where he remains in critical condition.

The preliminary investigation indicates a dispute inside a restaurant involving a large group preceded the shooting. The victim then exited the restaurant and the suspect brandished a firearm and discharged multiple rounds, injuring the victim and causing property damage to the building. The suspect fled the scene on foot and officers canvassed the area yielding negative results. The suspect is described as a slim build, Black male in his 20’s.

This remains an active criminal investigation and anyone with videos, photos, or other media which may assist the investigation is asked to upload those files to our evidence submission portal. Any additional information related to this incident may be provided by contacting the Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit at 703-228-4180 or [email protected] or anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

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Arlington County police responded to an unusual incident on Route 50 this afternoon.

It happened around 1 p.m. at the intersection with Park Drive, near the Arlington Forest Shopping Center and the Outback Steakhouse.

Multiple 911 callers said the driver of a flatbed AAA tow truck parked in the travel lanes, got out, started dancing and “acting erratically.” Callers told police they were concerned for the driver’s welfare.

A traffic camera viewed by ARLnow showed the tow truck stopped in a middle eastbound lane as traffic drove by. The truck driver then drove off just before police arrived on scene.

The tow truck was not found after an initial search of the area. It is unclear whether the driver’s actions constitute anything more than a traffic infraction.

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Police presence at Wakefield High School Thursday afternoon (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

An 18-year-old Arlington man is behind bars after police say he snuck into Wakefield High School yesterday to confront a student, triggering a lockdown.

Kenan Owens was arrested around 1 a.m. this morning in the Douglas Park neighborhood by an Arlington County Police Department tactical team. According to scanner traffic, a total of nine people were detained in the operation, which targeted a small house on the 4200 block of 16th Street S., near the intersection of Four Mile Run Drive and S. George Mason Drive.

The police department said Owens “was known to carry a firearm” and “had an ongoing dispute with” the targeted student.

“The suspect fled the scene prior to police arrival and was later observed in the victim’s neighborhood,” said ACPD. Initial reports suggested that the dispute might be related to a recent shooting and that Owens was spotted wearing a ski mask while inside the school.

The trespassing incident triggered an hours-long lockdown of the school and a large police response. Classes were cancelled today at Wakefield, which is also mourning the death of a student from an apparent overdose.

More on the arrest from an ACPD press release, below.

The Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit is announcing the arrest of an individual following a trespassing investigation at Wakefield High School. Kenan Owens, 18, of Arlington was arrested and charged with Trespassing at School, Stalking, Remove/Alter Serial Number of Firearm, and Allowing Access to Firearm by Children (x3). He is being held without bond in the Arlington County Detention Facility.

At approximately 12:30 p.m. on February 2, police were dispatched to the 1300 block of S. Dinwiddie Street for the report of a trespasser. Initial information received by the Emergency Communications Center indicated the trespasser was known to carry a firearm, however, no weapon was observed during the incident. The school was placed on lockdown as police investigated the incident. The investigation ultimately determined the trespasser was not currently on school property and students were dismissed on time.

The preliminary investigation indicates the suspect allegedly entered the school and attempted to locate the juvenile victim whom he had an ongoing dispute with. Witnesses reported this information to school administration who then contacted police. The suspect fled the scene prior to police arrival and was later observed in the victim’s neighborhood.

During the course of the investigation, detectives identified the suspect and obtained warrants for his arrest. In the early morning hours of February 3, the Emergency Response Team took the suspect into custody at a residence in the 4200 block of 16th Street S. During the execution of a search warrant, three firearms were recovered including one with a removed serial number.

This remains an active investigation and anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Tip Line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected] Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Hat tip to Dave Statter

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Police and firefighters on scene of a reported overdose at Wakefield High School (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 11:55 a.m.) The teen found unconscious in a Wakefield High School boys bathroom Tuesday after an apparent overdose has died.

“The Arlington County Police Department is conducting a death investigation following the teen’s passing yesterday at the hospital,” ACPD said in a statement this morning. “The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will determine cause and manner of death.”

The name of the student was not given but he was identified in an online fundraising campaign and by a speaker at last night’s Arlington School Board meeting as Sergio Flores. He was reported to be 14 years old in the initial fire department dispatch on Tuesday.

A GoFundMe campaign to help pay for his funeral has raised more than $22,000 as of publication time.

“We want to give Sergio Flores the memorial he deserves, to honor his memory and say our last goodbyes,” said the page. “Sergio was a sweet caring person, he was someone who showed what real love was either family or friend wise.”

“He was someone that made everyone laugh he always had jokes he always wanted to put a smile on his friends and families face,” the page continued. “He would always be dancing with music or no music. Even if he wasn’t having a good day he always tried his best to make people happy and smile and you will be watching over all your friends and family… we love you fly high little one️.”

In recent months numerous parents and advocates have sounded the alarm to ARLnow about opioid use and overdoses in Arlington’s public schools, including middle schools and high schools.

Arlington police responded to Arlington Public Schools buildings seven times for reported overdoses between January and October 2022, according to ACPD stats. APS has been trying to combat a twin epidemic of opioid use and mental health crises among students, leading to what is now at least three student deaths since Christmas.

Still, some parents say there is more the school system should be doing. A parent march is planned in front of Wakefield High School at noon today, though classes were cancelled after yesterday’s lockdown for a potential armed trespasser.

“Say his name. Sergio Flores,” Judith Davis, Wakefield High School PTSA president, said during blistering remarks at last night’s School Board meeting. She accused APS of a “lack of leadership and inaction.”

Every single one of you in this room has been told by parents, teachers, students, PTSAs, and community leaders that we will have someone die at Wakefield. Since we came back from Covid, that has been the constant conversation and you all failed to address it. After what happened Tuesday, the only two people who contacted parents, students or PTSA were (Chief of Staff) Stephen Linkous and (School Board member) Mary Kadera, while her mother was dying. Entirely unacceptable. Stop celebrating your collective lack of performance and lack of leadership. It resulted in a loss of life. Every one of you knew this day would come. Say his name. Sergio Flores. He died. This kid is not going back to his family. The action items you claim were already happening are not in place at Wakefield. Lack of leadership and inaction is what resulted in what happened on Tuesday and what happened today. Where is the accountability for what happened? Do better. Stop celebrating yourself and talk to the community. Talk to parents. Talk to students.

Four other teens were treated by medics at Wakefield on Tuesday, at least some of whom were believed to have drug-related symptoms. Medics were also dispatched to the school yesterday, during dismissal, for a possible student overdose, according to dispatch recordings.

Police are asking the public for any additional information about Tuesday’s fatal overdose.

“This remains an active investigation and anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Tip Line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected],” said ACPD. “Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).”

(Updated at 11:55 p.m.) Wakefield High School was placed in lockdown Thursday afternoon after reports of a trespasser, possibly armed with a gun, and a threat against a student.

The cause for concern is related to a recent shooting in the Green Valley neighborhood, according to initial reports. So far, there are no reports of any acts of violence inside the school.

The initial dispatch went out around 12:30 p.m. A large police presence surrounded Wakefield and officers — some heavily armed — searched the building and classrooms, as well as nearby neighborhoods.

During the search, a student who was not considered a suspect was escorted out of the school by police, ARLnow hears.

The lockdown was lifted and student dismissal started shortly after 3 p.m. under the watchful eye of police.

“ACPD’s investigation determined the trespasser, possibly armed with a gun, is not currently on school property,” Arlington Public Schools said in a statement. “The investigation into the incident is ongoing, according to ACPD… All students and staff are safe.”

“After-school and evening activities are canceled,” the statement added. “The safety and security of your student is our top priority.”

During dismissal, a medic unit was dispatched to the school for what what described as a separate incident unrelated to the trespassing.

Groups of parents started gathering near the school after the lockdown started but were then directed to a reunification center at a nearby church, per scanner traffic. TV news crews also gathered outside of the school.

Wakefield students were dismissed early Tuesday after a student was hospitalized in critical condition after an apparent overdose in a bathroom. Friday classes were cancelled as of Thursday evening, according to APS.

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Possible carjacked vehicle and suspect vehicle caught on camera (courtesy Dave Statter)

It has been an eventful couple of weeks for BMW drivers in the Crystal City and Pentagon City area.

Last night another BMW was taken during a carjacking, by suspects who themselves arrived in a BMW. This time it happened outside the 7-Eleven store at the corner of 23rd Street S. and S. Eads Street.

“At approximately 10:14 p.m. on January 30, police were dispatched to the report of a stolen vehicle,” Arlington County police said today in a crime report. “Upon arrival, it was determined the male victim was attempting to reverse out of a parking space when Suspect One exited the suspect vehicle, approached the victim, brandished a firearm, threatened him and demanded his vehicle.”

“The victim exited his vehicle and Suspect One and Suspect Two entered,” the crime report continued. “The suspects then fled the scene in the victim’s stolen vehicle at a high rate of speed with the suspect vehicle, occupied by Suspect Three and Suspect Four, following.”

This was the fifth reported carjacking in Arlington in three weeks, the fourth in the Crystal City and Pentagon City areas, and the third involving BMWs.

On Jan. 15 an Audi was carjacked at 23rd Street S. and S. Fern Street, in Crystal City. On Jan. 25 a white BMW was carjacked near 23rd Street S. and Crystal Drive, in Crystal City. On Jan. 26 a BMW was carjacked in front of the Pentagon City mall after another BMW, carjacked in D.C., crashed and was abandoned nearby on Route 1.

The five vehicles carjacked in Arlington this month compares to zero carjacked last January and 14 total throughout 2022, according to stats provided by ACPD.

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(Updated at 4:35 p.m.) There was a significant police presence at Wakefield High School today after a possible drug overdose.

One student was transported via ambulance from the school in critical condition after being found unresponsive. Four other students were treated on the scene for unspecified issues, according to the Arlington County Police Department.

Police and medics responded to the school’s medical clinic and an upper floor boys bathroom, where CPR was performed on the student who was then rushed to the hospital, according to initial reports.

A police press release issued this afternoon said the student who was taken to the hospital remains in critical condition.

The Arlington County Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division is investigating an apparent drug overdose at Wakefield High School.

At approximately 9:27 a.m. on January 31, police and fire were dispatched to the 1300 block of S. Dinwiddie Street for the report of an unresponsive juvenile male inside a bathroom. Medics administered emergency medical aid before transporting the juvenile to an area hospital. He remains hospitalized in critical condition. Four additional juveniles were evaluated on scene by medics.

Responding officers processed the scene, collected evidence and spoke with witnesses. Based on the preliminary information, this incident is being investigated as an apparent drug overdose. In accordance with Virginia Code, additional details are not releasable due to the patient’s age.

This remains an active investigation and anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Tip Line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected] Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, help is available and there are numerous treatment resources available in Arlington.

This morning, during the emergency response, Wakefield’s principal sent an email to families, noting that “students are being held in their second period classes at the request of the Arlington County Police Department.”

The school ultimately dismissed early, cancelled all evening activities and has postponed tonight’s athletic events.

“Due to the disruption caused by the ongoing ACPD investigation, we are dismissing students early,” Wakefield principal Chris Wilmore said in a subsequent email. Students will be dismissed at 12:30 p.m. and all after-school and evening activities are canceled. Students will be provided with a grab-and-go lunch if needed as they leave.”

In recent months numerous parents and advocates have sounded the alarm to ARLnow about opioid use and overdoses in Arlington’s public schools, including middle schools and high schools.

Arlington police responded to APS buildings seven times for reported overdoses between January and October 2022, according to ACPD stats. APS has been trying to combat a twin epidemic of opioid use and mental health crises among students, leading to at least two student deaths since Christmas, ARLnow reported earlier this month.

This afternoon, Wilmore sent the following email to families, noting that “additional counseling services will be available for students on Wednesday.”

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