(The Center Square) – The Richmond Police Department thwarted a mass shooting of Virginians on July 4 by two men who were in the U.S. illegally. Their plans, which were unknown to the Department of Homeland Security – the agency tasked with preventing terrorist attacks – were thwarted by an anonymous tipster who called the police.
Republican Gov. Glen Youngkin called the tipster a “hero.”
The suspects, believed to be Guatemalan citizens Julio Alvarado-Dubon, 52, and Rolman Alberto Balacarcel Ac, 38, were in the U.S. illegally. They were arrested on July 1 and July 5, respectively, charged with being non-citizens in possession of a firearm, although they are likely to face additional charges.
They both had Colorado driver’s licenses; one had a Guatemala ID, the other a Mexico ID, according to an affidavit filed by Detective Michael Kiniry.
A Homeland Security Investigations agent determined that Balcarcel Ac had been previously deported twice and has connections to the Mexican Los Zetas cartel, according to the affidavit. Alvarado-Dubon, who’s lived in Richmond for three years and works in the construction industry, has a visa that expired four years ago.
The Los Zetas are currently warring with other cartels for control of a section of the Texas-Mexico border and have a heavy presence across the Rio Grande River from Del Rio, Texas. The Del Rio Sector in Texas rivals the Rio Grande Sector for having the heaviest traffic of illegal activity where people from over 150 countries are entering Texas illegally.
Officials haven’t yet said where or how the men entered the U.S.
At a press conference last week, Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith said the tipster overheard a phone call indicating the men had planned to attack the Dogwood Dell Amphitheater where an annual fireworks show is held. The amphitheater holds 2,400 people and is owned and operated by the Department of Parks, Recreation & Community Facilities. Summer long celebrations of the arts and events are held there.
A motivation for the plot hasn’t been disclosed, however, Smith told reporters, "We know their intent. Their intent was to conduct a mass shooting at our Fourth of July celebration.
“The success of this particular investigation can only be juxtaposed against the horrors in which the rest of the country has seen. There is no telling how many lives … this hero citizen saved from one phone call.”
The tipster told police that Balcarcel Ac showed him three guns on June 21. On the same day the tipster called police, July 1, Alvarado-Dubon was arrested and police allegedly seized two rifles, one handgun, and over 200 rounds of ammunition from his place of residence in the Richmond area.
Balacarcel Ac was put under surveillance, with the FBI and DHS officials assisting in the investigation, Smith told reporters. He was eventually taken into custody in Albermarle County outside Charlottesville.
Federal law prohibits individuals who are in the U.S. illegally from purchasing firearms.
Richmond authorities say they are working with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to trace where the men purchased the weapons and ammunition. The Los Zetas cartel works with local gangs whose members don’t purchase guns legally.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement have placed detainers on both men to take them into federal custody. They are currently being held in local jails; Alvarado-Dubon in Richmond and Balcarcel Ac in Charlottesville.
“It was a very serious threat. Any threat against life and certainly that of a mass shooting is gravely serious. No further information is being provided about this beyond what’s been provided at this stage,” police spokesperson Tracy Walker told the Associated Press. “The suspect clearly announced a plan to carry this out and clearly had the means to do so based on the weapons and several hundred rounds of ammunition that was seized.”