Jose Oswaldo Reyes Alfaro, an illegal immigrant, was charged in the pair of attacks blocks apart Thursday night that left three people dead and three others injured, Manassas Police Chief Doug Keen said.
Reyes Alfaro knew all of the victims, he said, but police were still sorting out the exact relationships.
The killings touched off further discussion of illegal immigration in Manassas and surrounding Prince William County, which was one of the early flashpoints in the national debate over whether local authorities should play a role in enforcing the nation's immigration laws.
"It's another abject failure of the federal government," said state Delegate Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, a former city council member and police officer. "Now we have three innocent victims in my city, about a mile from my house there's a murderous rampage. I am furious. ... Yet it happens over and over and over again, and then we have to hear all of these apologetic excuses as to why we shouldn't be addressing criminal illegal aliens on the state or local level. It's just disgusting."
A similar uproar ensued in August when an allegedly drunken driver struck a car carrying three nuns, killing Sister Denise Mosier, 66. The man charged in that crash, 23-year-old Carlos Martinelly Montano, had been turned over to immigration authorities but was released pending a deportation hearing.
Nancy Lyall of the immigrant advocacy group Mexicans Without Borders said it was misleading to link an isolated criminal case with the issue of illegal immigration. In Prince William County, she said, "the undocumented population is a very, very low percentage of those who are accused of violent crimes."
She predicted that advocates of tougher immigration enforcement would use the Alfaro case to "stereotype every person that's here without documentation."
While the Georgetown South development where the killings happened has been plagued with crime and some gang activity, Keen said they were not gang-related.
Brenda Ashcraft, 56, and her son William Ashcraft, 37, were shot and killed in the first attack called into police shortly after 7 p.m. Thursday. A 34-year-old woman was injured and remains hospitalized, and a 15-year-old girl was treated and released.
In the second attack, Keen said 48-year-old Julio Cesar Ulloa was shot and killed, and a 77-year-old woman suffered head wounds from a large knife.
Brenda Ashcraft's niece, Melissa King, said Friday that her aunt had been a victim of domestic violence by her boyfriend, whom she only knew as "Jose."
"He'd been causing trouble but she was too afraid to call police," King said, standing a few doors outside Ashcraft's home.
"They were good, good family, just full of love and support. This was not drug-related. This was not gang-related ... It was just domestic violence."
King said she has lived in the same neighborhood as her aunt her entire life.
"I know it's a bad neighborhood with crime, but so many people came out last night to offer us support. It was really like one big family," she said. She called her aunt "one of the rocks in our family. She'd give you her last piece of bread, her last dollar."
Reyes Alfaro made an initial appearance Friday morning in Prince William General District Court, and was ordered held without bond. His court-appointed lawyer, Kimberly Irving, declined to comment Friday except to say that she only spoken with her client briefly.
Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert said Friday that it's likely the charges will eventually be upgraded to capital murder - which would make Reyes Alfaro eligible for the death penalty - but a final decision has not been made because the investigation is still ongoing.
"Of course it's a very heinous crime," Ebert said.
Manassas, a city of nearly 37,000 about 30 miles west of the nation's capital, has averaged about two homicides a year since 2005, according to annual crime reports through 2009.
Associated Press writers Dena Potter in Richmond and Ben Nuckols in Washington contributed to this report.