Police in Richmond, Virginia, have dropped charges against two men who were arrested for allegedly plotting a mass shooting for the Fourth of July holiday.
The Richmond Commonwealth Attorney’s Office filed a motion on Aug. 3 to drop state charges against the two suspects in the case.
Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin said that her office on the same day asked federal authorities to take over the case. “These are two illegal aliens with guns so we wanted them prosecuted at the highest level possible,” she said.
Guatemalan illegal immigrants Julio Alvarado-Dubon, 52, and Rolman Balcarcel-Bavagas, 38, were arrested on July 1 and July 5 respectively and were charged with being non-U.S. citizens in possession of firearms.
The men lived at the same address and were described as roommates.
The arrests came after an anonymous person overheard a discussion about carrying out a shooting at an Independence Day celebration in Richmond, Gerald Smith, the city’s police chief, said in early July.
A search warrant affidavit filed in state court said that after police received the tip, they contacted Homeland Security, then went to a home in Richmond, where police said both men lived. Officers seized two rifles, a handgun, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
Officials said the shooting was allegedly planned for the Dogwood Dell amphitheater, which seats 2,400 and is located outdoors.
“We know what their intent is. But we don’t have that motive,” Smith noted at the time.
Neither Alvarado-Dubon nor Balacarcel were charged specifically with planning a mass shooting.
New Federal Charges
On Aug. 2, Alvarado-Dubon was charged in federal court with possession of a firearm by a non-U.S. citizen. An affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint against Alvarado-Dubon said he last entered the United States in 2014 and had overstayed his visa by more than seven years. His attorney, Jose Aponte, said he is scheduled to be arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court. Aponte declined to comment on the case.
Balcarcel-Bavagas was charged in a federal criminal complaint with entering the U.S. illegally. His attorney, Samuel Simpson V, did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment. An affidavit written by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent said Balcarcel-Bavagas was deported twice previously—in 2013 and 2014—and reentered the United States illegally.
During a hearing on Aug. 3 in Richmond General District Court, presiding Judge David Hicks asked a state prosecutor for any evidence that the mass shooting was planned for Dogwood Dell.
“The Commonwealth has no information that either of these individuals were involved in a potential shooting or planned shooting at Dogwood Dell on the Fourth of July here in the City of Richmond?” Hicks asked Clinton Seal, the assistant commonwealth’s attorney.
Seal said there was evidence of a planned shooting, but not at a specific location. “I think that there is evidence to support the potential for a shooting,” Seal responded, according to WRIC.
McEachin told WRIC that her office’s evidence came from an anonymous person who never mentioned a time or place for the alleged mass shooting plot.
“The Commonwealth’s evidence was that a tipster communicated to the police that he knew someone who has said that he was going to shoot up a large event on the Fourth of July. No specific time was mentioned by the tipster. Neither Dogwood Dell, nor any other specific location, was ever mentioned by the tipster,” she told the outlet.
“My office asked the U. S. Attorney’s Office to ‘adopt the case’ so that federal resources could be directed at the case, given the seriousness of the allegations,” McEachin also said.
No details about the alleged shooting plot have been included in documents filed in state or federal court. Police also have not officially announced any motive.
In a statement issued on Aug. 3, the Richmond Police Department said that “there is evidence that RPD stopped a mass shooting from happening in the city on July 4.”
“Our investigation led us to conclude that Dogwood Dell was the intended target,” it said. “The result of good investigative work led to removing two men with guns and rounds of ammunition from harming our residents and visitors.”
“The case is now in the hands of the federal justice system and we will continue to follow the case as it unfolds.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.