By Zachary Stieber
Police in Virginia, alerted by a tipster, arrested two noncitizens who were allegedly plotting a mass shooting on July 4, officials announced on July 6.
Julio Alvarado, 52, and Rolman Balacarcel, 38, were arrested after a “hero citizen” overheard discussion about carrying out a shooting at an Independence Day celebration in Richmond, the city’s police chief said.
Both men were charged with being a non-U.S. citizen in possession of a firearm.
The exact immigration status of the accused plotters isn’t clear. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency did not respond to requests for comment and the Richmond Police Department did not pick up the phone or return an email. At least one suspect was reportedly deported in the past.
Motive Not Known
Alvarado and Balacarcel “were planning to actually shoot up our Fourth of July celebration,” Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith told reporters at a briefing.
“We know what their intent is. But we don’t have that motive,” he added.
The shooting was allegedly planned for the Dogwood Dell Ampitheater, which has 2,400 seats and is located outdoors.
The men who were arrested lived at the same address and were described as roommates.
Alvarado let officers into the apartment on July 1, after police were told of the apparent plot. Once inside, police saw “firearms-related material” in plain view that corroborated the tipster’s statement, according to Smith.
Officers seized rifles, a handgun, and 223 rounds of ammunition. They arrested Alvarado.
Officers did not have adequate evidence to arrest Balacarcel and wanted to make sure there were no other persons involved in the scheme, so they put him under surveillance.
Balacarcel was arrested on July 5.
Both suspects are being held in the Richmond City Jail. Additional charges may be pressed in the coming days.
Tipster ‘Saved Numerous Lives’
Officials praised the unnamed person who overheard the conversation, though they couldn’t give details such as when the conversation took place.
“The success of this particular investigation can only be juxtaposed against the horrors … the rest of the country has seen. There is no telling how many lives this hero citizen saved from one phone call,” Smith said.
In Illinois on July 4, a man identified by police as Robert Crimo III opened fire, killing seven and injuring dozens more.
“One phone call saved numerous lives on the Fourth of July. And moving forward, we implore that everyone, if you see something, say something; if you hear something, say something,” Smith said.