Ten teens accused in DC carjacking rings, claiming it was like “Grand Theft Auto,” officials say

(WASHINGTON) — Ten teens were charged on Monday in a string of carjackings in Washington, D.C., authorities said, amid what law enforcement calls a sharp rise in the crime in the nation’s capital.

The 10 suspects are believed to be involved in two separate carjacking rings in D.C., authorities said: The teens, who are being charged as adults, are allegedly responsible for at least 15 vehicle thefts and held victims at gunpoint, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Matthew Graves, said at a news conference.

The charges represented the largest federal carjacking arrest in D.C. this year, Graves said.

He said the charges were a “serious response to show people that this is not a game. This is the real world and there will be real-world consequences.”

The teenagers allegedly had a group chat “discussing some of the carjackings covered by these indictments,” Graves told reporters on Monday, adding, “One defendant wrote ‘GTA IRL,’ which we allege means ‘Grand Theft Auto’ in real life.”

Carjackings have skyrocketed in the nation’s capital, according to officials: With a few days left in the calendar year, there have been 932 carjackings in 2023 in Washington — 77% of which involved guns. Only 167 people have been arrested for carjacking in the district and of those arrests, 62% were juveniles, according to authorities.

One of the teens charged on Monday allegedly shot a ride-share driver multiple times during an attempted carjacking, law enforcement said. His victim miraculously survived his injuries.

One of the groups of teens that has been charged is suspected of working together to target victims ranging from a dentist who was on the way to work to a mother with small children in her car in front of an elementary school to an elderly couple pulling into their driveway, officials said Monday.

“What we want to say very loudly and very clearly … is it is a really big deal and it will be prosecuted as such,” Graves said Monday.

Last week, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and Police Chief Pamela Smith testified in a closed-door bipartisan briefing to lawmakers about rising crime in the district.

House Oversight and Accountability Chair James Comer, R-Ky., said after the meeting that the conversation focused on “the rising, unchecked crime impacting the nation’s capital city.” Comer described the meeting as a meaningful and “productive and bipartisan discussion about rising crime.”

However, he took aim at the district’s governing council and at Graves, arguing they “have failed their basic responsibility to keep Americans safe and criminals off the streets.”

Earlier this year Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, was carjacked in Washington and Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., was assaulted in her apartment building.

A day after the congressional briefing, Bowser announced a new real-time crime center, which will be a joint clearinghouse to tackle crime in and around the nation’s capital. The new effort will launch in February.

In it, D.C. police will serve alongside federal and local authorities in an effort to reduce crime in 2024.

On Monday, Graves criticized the district’s slowness to update its public-safety laws, which he said haven’t been comprehensively revised since 1901. The most recent effort to update the laws was rejected by Congress, which has oversight over the district in an unusual arrangement because it is not a state.

Graves said he has worked with Bowser and council members to come up with some solutions for combating crime.

“The system needs to change,” he said.

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