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Falls Church Murder-Suicide Man a ‘Loner’

New details painting a clearer picture of the two people who died in last week’s 24-hour standoff on Lisle Avenue in Greater Falls Church have been discovered through exclusive News-Press interviews with neighbors and friends of 36-year-old Hilary E. Bradford of McLean and 44-year-old John T. Valentini of the Lisle Avenue address. IMG_2974

New details painting a clearer picture of the two people who died in last week’s 24-hour standoff on Lisle Avenue in Greater Falls Church have been discovered through exclusive News-Press interviews with neighbors and friends of 36-year-old Hilary E. Bradford of McLean and 44-year-old John T. Valentini of the Lisle Avenue address.

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FAIRFAX COUNTY POLICE drove in a Mobile Command Unit to last week’s Falls Church crime scene. (Photo: News-Press)

The two deceased shared a son. The woman, an ex-girlfriend, was a nurse described as happy and getting her life together. The man was a loner, subject to frequent angry outbursts.

The SWAT Team-enlisted debacle — fully equipped with robots and a Crisis Negotiation bus parked on the scene — created a stir in the normally-quiet Pimmit Hills neighborhood. What began as a phoned-in noise complaint about a gunshot sound quickly turned into a day-long negotiation between Fairfax County Police and Valentini, who allegedly shot and killed Bradford, his ex-girlfriend, over what police are calling a “domestic dispute.” The former couple shared an 8-year-old son.

That boy, along with what’s rumored to be Valentini’s new girlfriend, were the two other people holed up inside his home at 7633 Lisle Ave., where Valentini fled after Bradford was shot. No additional details revealing the survivors’ identities, both of whom escaped safely without any reported injuries, have been released.

The woman was escorted out of the house last Wednesday in hand-cuffs by police when the barricade came to a close. Fairfax County Police spokeswoman Tawny Wright called the exit method a standard safety procedure. Furthermore, neither the son nor the woman have been labeled as hostages by police.

Larry Schultz, Valetini’s neighbor of 35 years, who only knew the suspect by the nickname “Hank,” doesn’t believe either of the two were hostages.

“I know the police made contact with the girlfriend over the phone, trying to get her to come out, but she was probably sticking around to protect [Valentini]. She knew if she came out, police were going to come in and arrest him,” said Schultz.

Shocked by what happened, Schultz called Valentini a “kind man,” going on to say “Hank must have been aggravated pretty harshly” to shoot Bradford, saying her never knew the gunman “to own a weapon.”

“Hank never raised any ruckus,” said Schultz.

In fact, Schultz and Valetini got along quite well, the two of them sharing an interest in cars. However, Schultz noted Valentini was “extremely conscious” of his family, and that if anyone ever said anything bad about one of his relatives, Valentini would “blow up.”

Echoing Valentini’s tendencies to be a hot head when it came to family matters, Joan Heaton of Arlington told the News-Press Valentini was always giving his ex-girlfriend “a lot of grief” and that the two of them “were constantly having problems” even though they’d been broken up for years.

Heaton met Bradford at the Arlington-based Virginia Hospital Center, where she had worked as Heaton’s husband’s nurse during his 26-day stay there for leukemia.

Heaton often chatted with the women at the nurse’s station to “maintain [her] sanity” while her husband was being treated. Soon after striking up conversation with Bradford, she learned the two of them had something in common — motherhood.

“It didn’t take long talking to her to find out she had a son. She loved her son desperately,” said Heaton. “[Hilary] was a lovely person, just as sweet as can be.”

Bradford was found critically injured by a gunshot wound to the chest outside Valentini’s home by Fairfax County Police when they’d responded to the noise complaint. She was immediately transported to INOVA Fairfax Hospital, where she died a day later.

A Crisis Negotiation Team made contact with the occupants of the home following the shooting and, for several hours, urged them to come out voluntarily. To no avail, a team of SWAT officers forced entry into the home 24 hours after the standoff began, preceded by robots, around 6:30 p.m. last Wednesday when communication ceased and police became worried for the safety of all parties involved. However, it was too late to save Valentini.

Valentini was pronounced dead at 2:12 a.m. last Thursday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the upper body after being transported to INOVA. It is believed he shot himself when he heard officers entering the home.

Schultz said he’d never seen Valentini’s son, though admitted he and Valentini had lost touch a bit in the past few years. He described Valentini a “homebody” that “kept to himself for the most part.”

During Schultz’s interview with the News-Press on his Lisle Avenue front porch, a gentleman on a motorcycle zoomed down the street when he said, “See that right there. That’s just what Hank would do, maybe wave to me or something.”

He said he never saw Valentini with anyone, going on to say, “He’d get a lot of complaints from neighbors about cutting down his bushes, but [Valentini] would fire back with, ‘Well, then you come over here and help me cut them down,’” said Schultz, who moved into the neighborhood in 1974.

He estimated the home Valentini lived in was purchased by Valentini’s mother in 1952. She’s since passed away, though Valentini continued to occupy the property, overcome with bushes, trees and abandoned cars — all of which drew attention from those neighbors less than pleased by the eye sore.

Bradford had been living in McLean for the past several years with her new boyfriend, who also had a young son, according to Heaton. The couple was planning to move into a new place together last Saturday, ironically the day after Bradford was pronounced dead around 2 p.m.

“Everything was starting to come together for her. She was such an upbeat person that you’d never know she had a care in the world,” said a saddened Heaton.

Schultz, visibly upset to hear of Bradford’s death from the News-Press, said, “I’m sorry Hank didn’t think it out. They’ve got to find someone with ties to that boy so he can move on with his life.”

It’s still unclear who will win custody of Valentini and Bradford’s son. Schultz said most of Valentini’s family members are dead. Information on Bradford’s parents, or any other prospective legal guardian, is unknown at this time.

Heaton recalled one of the last memories of Bradford as a heart-warming one. She’d watched late one evening at the hospital as the Arlington nurse stayed by the bedside of a sick young girl for four hours longer than her shift called for, taking special care of the child.

“Hilary was a dear and will be terribly missed,” said Heaton. “The residents of Arlington have been deprived a good nurse, one who went above and beyond.”

In the end, Valentini was never technically charged with murder. Wright told the News-Press police had an arrest warrant for “aggravated malicious battery,” one with which they were unable to issue before his death. She went on to say that if Valentini were to survive, he would have been charged with the homicide of Bradford.

This marks the seventh homicide in Fairfax County this year.

(Editor’s Note: The original press release sent to the News-Press from Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD), dated July 20, and sent at 2:45 p.m., read: “CORRECTION: The victim, Hillary E. Bradford, died on Friday, July 17.” The spelling of Bradford’s name has since been changed to one “l” on FCPD’s Web site, after this story went to press.)