(Updated at 9:45 a.m. on 3/2/23) The man who tried to force his way into a locked-down middle school last June won’t be charged — but this clemency comes with conditions.
Alexander Sentayhu, who was charged with property destruction after he unsuccessfully tried to breach Thomas Jefferson Middle School, was given a deferred disposition rather than a sentence. That means he has a series of conditions to meet in order to have the charge dismissed.
Believing there was an active school shooter inside, he called 911 and indicated he was armed and trying to get inside to pick up his relatives, Arlington County Police Department said at the time. Sentayhu kicked the glass door, breaking it, and tried unsuccessfully to open it. He left before police arrived.
The building had been secured and locked to the outside due to a robbery at a 7-Eleven store nearby, but anxieties about school violence were heightened around this time following the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Sentayhu turned himself in, was charged with Destruction of Property and released on bond while the General District Court reviewed his case. He was 25 at the time of his arrest.
The outcome of Sentayhu’s case is known as a “deferred disposition,” and it is an authority is granted to the court in Virginia code, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti.
“He was required to fulfill conditions such as restitution and treatment, designed to ensure accountability and rehabilitation,” Dehghani-Tafti tells ARLnow.
The court reviewed his progress toward meeting these conditions during his appearance on Feb. 16 of this year.
“He successfully met those conditions and the resolution was supported by the parties involved,” she said.
Dehghani-Tafti did not elaborate as to what those conditions were.
Like probation, deferred dispositions usually come with conditions, according to an explainer by the Virginia State Crime Commission.
“In general, deferred disposition permits a court to withhold imposition of a sentence and place conditions on the defendant that, when met, allow for the charges to be dismissed,” it says. “Upon the satisfactory completion of all conditions, and if no other criminal offenses are committed during the period of deferment, the original charge may be dismissed.”
Sentayhu was previously in the news in early 2020, after he incurred steep medical costs while suffering a significant heart issue, and later after speaking at a White House press conference with Vice President Kamala Harris about the issue of medical debt.
Last week someone using an email account under Sentayhu’s name emailed ARLnow demanding that we “DELTE OR PERMANENT DELETE this FALSELY reported article ASASP,” in apparent reference to the report about his arrest. The email included a court record showing that the charge against him had been dropped.
They did not respond to emailed questions asking for his side of the story.
A pair of incidents have prompted police investigations at two Arlington middle schools to start the week.
A student at Thomas Jefferson Middle School allegedly brought a weapon to school on Monday that turned out to be an airsoft gun. Police say they confiscated the airsoft gun and juvenile charges are pending.
From today’s Arlington County Police Department crime report:
CARRYING AIR GUN IN PUBLIC (late), 2023-02060183, 100 block of S. Old Glebe Road. At approximately 7:03 p.m. on February 6, police were dispatched to the late report of a brandishing. Upon arrival, it was determined at approximately 1:15 p.m., the juvenile suspect allegedly opened his backpack and exposed the handle of what was later determined to be an airsoft gun to several juveniles. No threats were made and the airsoft gun was not brandished during the incident. During the course of the investigation, officers identified the involved juvenile and recovered the airsoft gun. A petition is pending for violation of Arlington County Code § 13-8.
The following email was sent to Thomas Jefferson families.
Dear Jefferson Families:
This is to inform you that around 6:40 p.m. on Mon, Feb. 6, our administrative team was informed that a student had a gun during the last period of the school day. The Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) was immediately made aware and confiscated an “airsoft gun” from a student. Information and support from our school community enabled us to quickly investigate and take immediate action. In addition, appropriate disciplinary action is being taken.
Students are reminded that bringing weapons of any kind into the school is against the law and will result in disciplinary action by the school as well as a referral to ACPD. Again, please be assured that we always take these incidents seriously. The safety of our students and staff is our top priority. […]
An incident at Dorothy Hamm Middle School, meanwhile, involved a threatening note “slipped under a teacher workroom door.”
Police do not believe the threat to be credible, according to an email sent to families this morning.
Dear DHMS Staff and Families,
Dorothy Hamm Middle School was informed of a threat of violence written on a piece of paper and slipped under a teacher workroom door. The threat was non-specific and did not include any information other than that something would happen today, Feb. 7.
The Department of Safety, Security, Risk and Emergency Management (SSREM) and the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) have been contacted, and while we do not believe the threat is credible, they are investigating. The school is operating as normal at this time, and all students and staff are safe.
As a precaution, there will be increased police presence at the school today. Any staff or students who have knowledge of this are asked to contact the school or Arlington County Police Department.
Students are reminded that making threats of any kind is unacceptable and in violation of the Student Code of Conduct and will result in disciplinary action by the school as well as a referral to law enforcement.
We appreciate the staff member who brought this to our attention and ask all members of our community to report any threats they may see or hear, whether they believe they are credible or not.
We will keep you updated if we receive new information. Thank you for working together to make our school safe. If you have any questions, please feel free to call the office at 703-228-2910.
Dorothy Hamm Middle School
It has been a busy couple of weeks for police at Arlington’s public schools, following a fatal suspected overdose and threats of potential gun violence at Wakefield High School last week, as well as other substance-abuse-related dispatches.
(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) Arlington County police blocked of a busy street near elementary and middle schools this morning to arrest a wanted suspect.
The arrest happened on the 3600 block of 2nd Street S., near Alice West Fleet Elementary School and Thomas Jefferson Middle School. The street was blocked to traffic at the intersection with S. Glebe Road, next to the 7-Eleven.
ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow that a suspect wanted out of Loudoun County was arrested and that this was not a barricade situation.
Passersby described a “heavy police presence.”
“Police are there and people in green camo/body armor with [rifles],” one tipster said.
In a social media post, police said “there is no ongoing threat to the community related to this incident.”
Later Wednesday, the man who was arrested was identified in a Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office press release as a 20-year-old Arlington resident.
The suspect, Joshua Patino, is accused of abducting a juvenile victim at gunpoint yesterday.
The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office has charged an Arlington man with multiple felony offenses, including abduction.
Yesterday evening, shortly before 8:00 p.m., deputies responded to the 25000 block of Hartwood Dr., Chantilly, for a report of an abduction. The preliminary investigation revealed that the juvenile victim was forced into their car at gunpoint by a man wearing a mask.
Detectives discovered that the suspect was known to the victim, and detectives worked closely with the Arlington County Police Department to locate and arrest him shortly after 9:00 a.m.
The suspect has been identified as Joshua Patino, 20, of Arlington. Patino has been charged with Abduction, Use of a Firearm in the Commission of a Felony, Brandishing a Firearm, Preventing the Summoning of Law Enforcement, Unlawful Use of a Mask, and Assault and Battery. Patino is currently awaiting extradition back to Loudoun County.
“These efforts by our detectives and the Arlington County Police Department illustrate the value of collaboration and partnerships among law enforcement in Northern Virginia. I want to thank the Arlington County Police Department for assisting us in quickly apprehending this dangerous individual,” said Sheriff Mike Chapman.
The exact relationship between Patino and the victim, as well as the victim’s age, was not given.
Update on 3/1/23 — Charges against the suspect were dropped, with certain conditions, as part of a deferred disposition deal with prosecutors.
A man who allegedly tried to force his way into a locked down middle school after claiming to be armed is facing charges.
Alexander Sentayhu, 25, thought there was an active shooter in Thomas Jefferson Middle School after, police say, he received text messages from relatives inside this past Friday afternoon. The school had been secured and locked to the outside due to a robbery at a 7-Eleven store nearby.
Sentayhu went to the school to pick up his relatives, “believing there may possibly be an act of violence occurring inside,” Arlington County police said.
“Upon finding the school locked, the suspect called the Emergency Communications Center indicating he was armed and requested access to the school,” police said. “At approximately 12:51 p.m., the suspect kicked the door, breaking the glass, and continued to try to force the door open. He was unsuccessful in gaining entry and left the scene prior to the arrival of officers.”
Sentayhu spoke at a White House press conference with Vice President Kamala Harris in April, highlighting the issue of medical debt, according to news reports. ARLnow previously reported on an online fundraiser for Sentayhu in early 2020, after he incurred steep medical costs while suffering a significant heart issue.
The news reports on the press conference noted that Sentayhu served in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Sentayhu turned himself in Friday night and was charged with Destruction of Public Property. He was released on bond but may face additional charges, police said.
In a press release Monday evening, the police department assured residents that it is well prepared to respond to incidents of active violence in schools, while pledging to work with Arlington Public Schools to communicate with families and residents about such incidents.
A parent told ARLnow on Friday that students and parents were initially panicked when the school was abruptly secured without explanation. It happened amid anxiety about school violence following the May 24 mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
More from an ACPD press release, below.
(Updated on 6/13/22) A robbery at a convenience store may have led to a panic about an active shooter at a nearby Arlington middle school.
It started at the 7-Eleven at 201 S. Glebe Road. Police were dispatched there shortly before 12:30 p.m. for a report of a man with a weapon robbing the store. They were initially told that someone was injured inside.
“At approximately 12:21, police were dispatched to the report of an assault with injury inside a business in the 200 block of S. Glebe Road,” said Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “Preliminary investigation indicates the suspect entered the business, produced a hammer, smashed a display case, stole merchandise and attempted to assault an employee. The suspect resisted arrest but was successful taken into custody by officers. Charges are pending.”
In the end, no one was found to be injured. The suspect was initially held at gunpoint by arriving officers, then arrested, according to scanner traffic.
As officers were rushing to the scene, ACPD asked that nearby Thomas Jefferson Middle School be placed on “secure the school mode” — in other words, locked from the outside. Given the recent mass shooting at a Uvalde, Texas elementary school, the somewhat routine security precaution may have panicked some students and parents.
Around 1 p.m. police were dispatched to the school for a report of a man armed with a gun who was trying to get inside, apparently in an effort to stop a potential active shooter. By the time officers arrived, the man had left the school campus, but a glass door at the entrance was damaged.
(On June 13, a local man was charged with Destruction of Public Property after allegedly trying to break into the school, concerned that an act of violence was underway inside.)
Savage said the initial indication is that “the report of an individual with the gun was someone picking up a student at the school.” No other details were immediately available.
“Police remain on scene investigating the circumstances of what occurred,” Savage said. She noted that there was “no threat to TJ Middle related to [the robbery].”
But parents, students and teachers were allegedly left in the dark as to why the school was secured.
“My daughter texted us and said they hadn’t been told why they were in lockdown,” a parent told ARLnow. “We did not hear from the school. Apparently teachers weren’t told why either.”
“There were a lot of scared students,” the parent added.
Updated at 10:30 p.m. — The person who was barricaded inside an Arlington Heights home has been taken into custody, police say.
INCIDENT: Police Activity
LOCATION:300 Blk S. Fillmore St.
IMPACT: Police Activity in the area has concluded. It is now safe to return to your residence.
Sent to: Map (Add on next page) at 21:25:57 on 04-08-2022
— Arlington Alert (@ArlingtonAlert) April 9, 2022
Earlier: Two streets north of Columbia Pike, in the Arlington Heights neighborhood, are blocked due to a reported barricade situation.
A person reportedly suffering from a mental health issue is inside a house on the 300 block of S. Fillmore Street and refusing to come out. Fillmore, an arterial street between the Pike and Route 50, is blocked by police south of 2nd Street S. as a result, while parts of 2nd Street are also blocked.
Arlington County police have established a command post on 7th Street S., near the Montessori Public School of Arlington. That street is blocked as well, west of S. Walter Reed Drive.
The incident started before noon and as of 3 p.m. is still ongoing. Both police and fire personnel are on scene, as negotiators try to coax the person out peacefully.
Police, meanwhile, are assisting students in the neighborhood as schools — including Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Fleet Elementary — are let out for the day.
The ACPD will be assisting students who live in the vicinity of S. Fillmore and S. 2nd St. There is no ongoing threat to either school community.
— Arlington Public Schools (@APSVirginia) April 8, 2022
Police continue to work towards resolving the incident. Be advised the following road closures are in place:
Fillmore St. between 2nd St. S and 5 St. S
7th St. S between Water Reed Dr. and Highland St.
2nd St. S between Garfield St. and Edgewood St.
— ArlingtonCountyPD (@ArlingtonVaPD) April 8, 2022
The Arlington School Board is set to consider a $1.6 million contract for safety upgrades to the entrance of Gunston Middle School.
At its meeting on Thursday, Board members will also consider approving a preliminary budget of $2.7 million for three other entrance projects.
In 2020, Arlington voters gave the thumbs up to safety renovations for five schools: Gunston, Thomas Jefferson and Williamsburg middle schools, Taylor Elementary School and Wakefield High School.
Construction at Gunston would start in June and be completed in mid-August before school starts on Aug. 29.
Work includes moving the main school entrance and office closer to S. Lang Street, which will require two science rooms to be relocated. The entrance will feature a vestibule where visitors will check in with office staff.
The project scope has also expanded to remediate structural issues related to how the building has settled into the ground over time. APS is budgeting $2.5 million, including contingencies, for the Gunston project and any unspent funds will be used for other capital projects.
This summer, APS will also be making upgrades to Wakefield’s entrance. This project will not have to go out to bid and the school system can move forward without School Board approval.
Design and Construction Director Jeffrey Chambers says the Taylor and Williamsburg projects, meanwhile, have fallen behind. Design work is currently just over halfway complete and staff aim to find a contractor this fall and start work next summer.
“We’re very concerned putting those out to bid or getting pricing or trying to get them constructed this summer because… both from references from our consultants and our experience with regard to projects we’ve recently finished, there are some serious issues still in the supply chain,” he told the School Board last month. “We don’t want to start projects, especially with administrative offices, and not be able to finish them.”
APS staff are recommending that work at Jefferson be deferred until APS is ready to make substantial renovations to the school.
“It was going to require a lot more renovations to that building than what we had budgeted for,” he said. “We felt it was better to defer that to a future, larger project.”
The public schools system is staggering these projects, all part of the adopted FY 2021 Capital Improvement Plan, because “rapid construction price escalation and supply chain delays [have] impacted the anticipated construction cost and completion,” according to the presentation.
APS has made security upgrades to more than half of its school buildings and aims to complete this work “within the next few years,” Chambers said.
Police Oversight Board Appointed — “The Arlington County Board is excited to announce the newly appointed members of the Community Oversight Board (COB)… The Oversight Board will consist of seven voting members who are residents of the County and reflect our demographic diversity along with two non-voting members with prior law enforcement experience.” [Arlington County]
Local Chef Feeding Ukraine Refugees — Bayou Bakery owner and chef David Guas is on “the frontlines in Przemyśl, Poland with [José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen], to give a helping hand to the emergency food relief for #UkraineRefugees crossing the border. Guas will be preparing and providing meals to help nourish those communities.” [Instagram]
Large Fight Near TJ Middle School — “3500 block of 2nd Street S. At approximately 3:47 p.m. on March 21, police were dispatched to the report of a large disorderly group of juveniles who appeared to be preparing to fight. Upon arrival, officers were approached by two juvenile victims who stated that they were physically assaulted by two juvenile subjects. Officers located the subjects in the area, detained them and determined one had sustained minor injuries consistent with being struck with BB gun pellets.” [ACPD]
Convoy Rumbles Through Arlington Again — From public safety watcher Dave Statter yesterday: “#TruckersConvoy2022 has made its presence known on I-395N, noisily crossing the 14th St. Bridge. @DCPoliceDept has the usual ramps blocked & #traffic is slowing.” [Twitter]
It’s Wednesday — A cloudy morning, then rain starting in the afternoon. Gusty winds and storms possible later tonight. High of 61 and low of 45. Sunrise at 7:08 am and sunset at 7:24 pm. [Weather.gov]
The Arlington School Board will vote on boundary changes tomorrow (Thursday) targeting two overcapacity schools in South Arlington.
This fall, Superintendent Francisco Durán launched a “limited” fall 2021 boundary process to relieve overcrowding at Abingdon Elementary School, Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School.
The newest version of the plan postpones changes to Abingdon, where enrollment is currently manageable for next year, according to Durán. Students would have been moved from the school in Fairlington to Charles R. Drew Elementary School in nearby Green Valley, echoing a similar proposal in 2018 that became controversial.
Gunston and Wakefield are still over-capacity, so some planning units will be moved to Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Washington-Liberty High School.
“The proposed changes are manageable among the identified schools that we’ve talked about and we’ve engaged with. The planning units included in this process should not need to be moved again in the next few years, and this limited process provides some additional to understand enrollment fluctuations we’re seeing caused by the pandemic, and any shifts in projects we may see,” he said during the Nov. 16 School Board meeting.
APS also proposes to change which neighborhood schools feed into Arlington’s Spanish-immersion schools, following previous boundary changes and the relocation of one immersion program, Key School.
“We want to make sure access to immersion schools is convenient to families and students nearest the location,” Durán said.
Relief for Gunston and Wakefield
The boundary changes for Gunston and Jefferson will reassign 140 third- to fifth-graders while the Wakefield and W-L changes will reassign 162 students.
The changes will impact the Penrose, Foxcroft Heights, Arlington View and Columbia Heights neighborhoods.
The proposal to move Wakefield students to W-L comes as the latter is about to unveil a new wing of the school — the former Education Center administrative offices — with room for up to 600 students.
APS says the extra space at the Education Center will provide enrollment relief for Wakefield and cut down on W-L’s waitlist for the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.
“The number of applicants to the IB Lottery and number on the waitlist has increased each year over the last four years,” according to the 2021 boundary process website.
APS may consider targeted transfers from Wakefield to Yorktown if forthcoming enrollment projections for 2022-23 suggest unmanageable levels at Wakefield — even with the boundary adjustment.
The new high school boundaries would reverse moves made in 2016 to address overcrowding at W-L, but those who were moved away from W-L in 2017 will not be moved back.
In 2017, APS redirected Boulevard Manor kids from W-L to Yorktown High School. Students say when they graduate from Kenmore Middle School and head to Yorktown, they lose many of their middle school friends. To avoid that, they apply for W-L’s IB program or for a neighborhood transfer.
“I can make new friends, but the point is that it’s completely reasonable that I want to go to high school with my friends — just like all the middle schoolers in Arlington,” said Kenmore eighth-grader Xavier Anderson, during the Nov. 16 meeting.
An Arlington teen was named as a top 300 finalist in a national science project competition.
Eyuel Berhanu, a rising 9th grader who went to Thomas Jefferson Middle School, is one of the Top 300 MASTERS in the annual Broadcom MASTERS science fair, which is billed as the nation’s premier Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) competition for middle schoolers.
Eyuel, 14, studied mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) in his project. His uncle is a civil engineer, and through him Eyuel became interested in highway entrance ramps and the reinforced dirt that typically supports them.
For his project, Eyuel tested how adding different types of reinforcement to sand affected the sand’s strength.
“We had a little cube with the top open, and filled it with sand then a type of reinforcement,” Eyuel said. “The reinforcement is very strong, so we couldn’t just put weights on it. We had to stand on it, and the most we had was 300 pounds of weight on it and it didn’t crumble.”
Through research, Eyuel identified the most common types of MSE reinforcements used in construction, and tested each. Between metal strips, ladder metal, plastic geogrid and metal mesh, he found geogrid to be the most effective.
The project was based on a paper Eyuel wrote as a part of the Virginia Junior Academy of Science in late 2019. In January 2020, he submitted his work to Thomas Jefferson’s school science fair, and won first prize.
This advanced him to the Northern Virginia regional science fair, where Eyuel placed in the top 10% of competitors and was nominated to Broadcom MASTERS.
From there, he was selected to the top 300 from an applicant pool of 3,476 students. Eyuel said being chosen from such a large group was surreal, and he had trouble believing it when he first read the email telling him the news.
Eyuel said he pursued science projects out of his passion for STEM.
“My love for science and math [got me involved]. I want to be an engineer when I grow up, so that’s what got me into STEM and science projects like this,” Eyuel said.
When Eyuel was in 7th grade, he said he entered his middle school’s science fair and placed third, failing to qualify for regionals. Having now advanced from his school’s fair to the national stage, Eyuel’s dad, Teguwaze Berhanu, said he thinks persistence is a lesson that Eyuel has taken from his journey.
“He worked a lot and he spent a lot of time,” Berhanu said. “He tried in 7th grade and didn’t make it to regionals. And he tried again and did. He learned that by doing things again and again, he can achieve whatever he wants.”
Eyuel is starting as a freshman in Washington-Liberty High School’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program this school year. He said he is looking forward to challenging himself in higher level math and science courses, and is excited to compete in science fairs at the high school level.
Photos courtesy the Berhanu family
Public-Private Partnership for Pentagon City Planning — “County Board members on Jan. 25 approved a memorandum of understanding with the coalition of property owners in [Pentagon City], which will guide planning efforts and allocate $1.5 million – about two-thirds of it from the county government, the rest from landowners – to complete it. County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said the aim was a coordinated strategy for redevelopment of the target area, which totals about 85 acres.” [InsideNova]
APS Investigating Swastika Incident — “School officials launched an investigation this week after a student drew a swastika on a piece of paper and handed it to a classmate at a Northern Virginia middle school. The incident took place Tuesday at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Arlington, according to a letter that Principal Keisha Boggan sent parents Wednesday. The hate symbol was later reported to Arlington County police.” [Washington Post]
Industry Supporting Glass Drop-Off Program — “Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) members are partnering to create a circular economy for high quality recycled glass in Northern Virginia. O-I Glass, Inc. (O-I Glass) and Strategic Materials are teaming up to create strong markets for glass in the region through a new glass recycling drop-off program.” [Press Release]
Thanks, Arlington — Thank you to everyone who came out to our 10th anniversary party at Bronson Bierhall in Ballston last night. It was a packed house and we are incredibly grateful to have that kind of support from members of the community, local institutions like the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, local government, and our advertisers — who help support ARLnow and keep our local news free for all. We also met a few commenters and a few soon-to-be commenters last night (you know who you are). Finally, a big thank you to our current and former employees, whose tireless work has helped us reach this anniversary while growing to serve other communities in Northern Virginia.