WASHINGTON — The Washington, D.C. region has been plagued by a crime they have yet to get a handle on in 2021: violent carjackings.
The most recent police data reveals 207 carjackings have been reported in D.C. and the surrounding counties between January and April of 2021. In 2020, there were 60 during the same period.
The hotspots are Prince George’s County and the District.
There have been 70 carjackings called into Prince George's County Police Department between January and mid-March alone. One was caught on camera at a Bladensburg gas station in March.
The victim and driver of a white Kia stopped for gas, police said. Video surveillance from the gas station shows the suspects’ car at a neighboring gas pump. As the driver gets in his car, the suspect runs over and demands the victim’s car at gunpoint.
Surveillance showed the suspect and victim get into a struggle, at which point police said the suspect shot at the victim and narrowly missed. Rounds went through the victim’s sweatshirt, according to police.
D.C. Police Department is dealing with a bigger problem when it comes to carjackings.
More than 107 people have been carjacked. Police have arrested 44 people and 34 of the suspects are under the age of 18. Based on police reports, some of the suspected carjackers have been as young as 12 years old.
"That's just what they like to do," Acting D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee said when talking about some of the suspects. "They just do it. They enjoy committing crimes."
Some juveniles have engaged in this crime for not only the thrill but to brag about their conquests on social media, Contee said.
"Most of these cars are recovered and they're recovered after a short joy ride or something like that,” he added.
In many cases, Contee said the same child is accused of committing multiple carjackings.
Investigators told WUSA9, that a lot of the young suspects are traveling down the same life road. Many have cases open with the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency, which indicates they’ve been reported missing from home, are consistently absent from school, or are victims or perpetrators of abuse.
D.C. has a task force in place to arrest these child carjackers, but Contee said it’s clear, more needs to be done.
“It is not solely a law enforcement issue," the chief said. "There are other entities involved. Community, parents, etc. This is not the cool thing to do. This is not the popular thing to do. Whether it's churches talking to kids in [the] community, violence interrupters talking to kids in [the] community. This is all hands on deck.”
A recent carjacking involved two teenage girls illustrates the need for community help now more than ever.
Two D.C. girls, ages 13 and 15 years old, are charged as juveniles with felony murder. They're accused of killing an Uber Eats driver in a botched carjacking in Southeast in March. The two D.C. girls are back in court next week, trying to strike a plea deal with prosecutors.
"It's hard to watch people in [the] community who are innocent victims, in this case, be victimized by some of the young people that we are trying to help. Some of the people we are trying to help through police reform issues,” Contee added.
Contee said it’s also clear, some of the young suspects are not aware of the consequences and long-lasting impact on the victims.
WUSA9 recently spoke with a woman who, in 2018, lived in D.C., but later moved to Prince George’s County after an attempted carjacking when she arrived home one evening.
PhiXavier Holmes said in the fall of 2018, she dodged two bullets in one day. She was in an early morning car accident and walked away unscathed. She returned home that evening in a rental car, achy, annoyed and with a gun in her face.
"He was like, 'B, give me the keys to the car' and I was like, 'wait, what?' I respond back, fight or flight and I fought. It was at that moment I began to scream and yell. At that time, he began to tug at the keys that were on my finger,” Holmes explained. "I could die, for real, for real. I'm like in mass hysteria."
Holmes said one suspect, who appeared to be a teen, ran off with one set of her keys and yelled, 'I’m coming back, I’m not done,'” she described.
"I lived in fear for quite some time,” Holmes said. "I'm still dealing with it, honestly speaking."
She shared her story because she wants people to understand the impact of these carjackings, even if it doesn't end in death.
"I never thought that, in front of my home, the place that's supposed to be peace, safety and refuge. I never thought that this would happen, you know?” Holmes said.
She spent months in therapy as a result.
Due to the sustained increase in carjackings, police departments in the region established a 2021 Carjacking Task Force that includes D.C. Police Department, Prince George's County Police Department, Montgomery County, Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and various State's Attorney's Offices.
To view our most recent carjacking stories in the DMV, click below: