Domestic violence trending upward in Fairfax Co.

Domestic violence cases are trending up in Fairfax County, Virginia, in 2022, according to police.

New police statistics show calls about assaults on family members are up 20% so far this year, and nearly half of the homicides in the county have been domestic-related.

Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis sat down with Megan Cloherty, co-host of the DMV Download podcast, to talk about the county’s latest domestic violence statistics, and he also provided an update about a particularly high-profile domestic-violence case — the murder of Hannah Choi in Alexandria.

“So far this year, we have 19 homicides in Fairfax County. We had exactly 19 the same time last year, as well,” Davis said. “But nine of our 19 are domestic-related.”

Davis noted this number is not inconsistent with 2021, which ended the year with 21 homicides, seven of which were adult children, living at home with their parents, who they ended up killing in their homes.

“So, consistent with last year, we’re still seeing domestic-related homicides at a higher rate than the years gone by,” Davis said. “And if it’s not a relationship inside the home, it’s a former relationship, an estranged relationship.”

Davis said domestic-related homicides are especially frustrating, because often a family member or friend tells investigators they suspected something like that was going to happen.

The murder of 35-year-old Arlington-resident Hannah Choi was one of the nine domestic-related homicides in Fairfax County in 2022. She was reported missing on March 6, the day after she and her ex-boyfriend, 27-year-old Joel Merino, shared what police referred to as a “goodbye dinner” at a restaurant.

Merino has been on the run since the day Choi was reported missing. Her body was discovered in Piscataway Park in Prince George’s County, Maryland, on March 24.

Police identified Merino as a person of interest early on in the investigation into Choi’s disappearance, but police said they had to move carefully. The time spent working with prosecutors from the commonwealth’s attorney’s office to establish probable cause gave Merino time to disappear.

Davis said they secured a warrant for second-degree murder for Merino before Choi’s body was discovered, but by that time Merino was already on the run. In the early days of the investigation, he was believed to be in the Atlanta area, though not anymore.

“We know where he is. We can’t get to him right now,” Davis said. “And that’s kind of cryptic, but that would probably imply, at least, that he may or may not be in the country. So we’re working with federal officials to take Joel Merino into custody.”

From an investigative standpoint, with a warrant for Merino’s arrest, Davis said, the case is closed for Fairfax County Police, but the goal is still to “see him in a pair of handcuffs in Fairfax County.”

“And there are a lot of people working at the federal and local levels to make sure that happens. I want to close that for the Choi family.”

Davis hesitates using the word “closure.”

“It’s probably not the best word, because I think that’s more of a journey than it is a destination, but it’s a step along the way for the family,” Davis said.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. If you or are in danger, please use a safe computer and consider calling 911. The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 / TTY 1-800-787-3224 or the StrongHearts Native Helpline at 1−844-762-8483 (call or text) are available to assist you.

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