Young and Hungry

Can You Blame the Economy for the Cameron Perks Tragedy?

It's natural to want to understand why someone like James Downs,  co-owner of the beloved Cameron Perks coffee shop in the Alexandria community of Cameron Station, shot his business partner and girlfriend, Dominique Dunford, before turning the gun on himself last week. But I think it's premature to blame the whole tragic incident on the economy. A man who would kill himself, shoot his loved one in the back (twice), and have a 12-hour stand-off with police has to have deeper troubles.

John Arundel, writing for LocalKicks, has pubished a nice narrative of Downs and Dunford's brief time as owners of Cameron Perks. Arundel quotes a number of sources, including Alexandria police, who label the incident a "domestic dispute," which says absolutely nothing, of course. Arundel tried to fill in the holes by talking to friends and neighbors:

But neighbors and friends of Downs told a reporter that the economic stresses of holding together a small business in a tough economy had gotten to him lately, making him edgy and often surly.

Last Thursday at around 10 a.m., the stresses of the deteriorating economy and his failing business got to the 44-year-old entrepreneur.

Downs apparently snapped, shooting his girlfriend and business partner Dominique Dunford in what Alexandria police called a domestic dispute as she tried to escape their townhouse in Cameron Station.

Neighbors of the couple told a reporter that Dunford was shot twice in the back by Downs as she fled to their garage, where she turned the keys of her car and drove straight through the garage door, into the 5000-block of Waple Lane.

Dunford survived the shooting and has been released in good condition from the hospital. The death count, fortunately, was limited to one: Downs himself in an unscripted suicide. Neighbors are quick to point a finger at governments for not helping the middle class more. From Arundel's report:

"It's such an unspeakable tragedy," said a neighbor, who asked not to be identified. "Cameron Perks was such a gift to this community, but I think it was really hard during these economic times for James and Dominique to hold it together, to make it work financially...There is so much aid available to the lower rungs of our society, from food stamps to housing assistance, but for middle class people like James and Dominique, where do you go?"

In the wake of the tragedy, City Councilman Rob Krupicka had scheduled a forum for Cameron Station residents to speak up on how the city can help small businesses which are failing. "We have great businesses in Alexandria, from the west end to the waterfront," Krupicka said. "But as our economy struggles, we clearly need to be proactive."

Maybe the neighbors are right; maybe an infusion of cash would have tamped down Downs' inner demons. But I'd like to reserve judgment on the economy's role in this mess until more facts come out about the man who actually pulled the trigger.

Photo courtesy of Cameron Perks

  • Samuel Snowden

    According to the Alexandria Gazette Packet, $516 was found at the crime scene. And the city's vice mayor is quoted saying the business had been having tough times lately. So it's not outside the realm of possibility to suspect that money could have had something to do with it.

  • John Arundel

    This is John, the author of the Local Kicks story, and a former nightside crime reporter for The Miami Herald and New York Times. I stand by my account and by my sources, who asked not to be identified. The victim of the shooting has come forward with a statement that my story was an accurate depiction of how events unfolded.

  • Tim Carman


    My speculative take on your article was no knock on your reporting, which looks solid as a rock to me. I don't think there's a reason to stand by it. The only thing I'm questioning is whether the economy alone can explain this man's unfortunate actions. People can say there was a causal relationship, but I think there has to be more to it.


  • cameron station resident

    James and dominique seemed like they had a troubled relationship. they did fight in front of customers and I know Dominique referred to herself as "newly single," but she was still living in that house. James had that "hangdog" look about him most of the time. He did tell me once, kind of guy to guy that she really wanted the shop so, he got it for her. he said he was really worried about it. i guess they both thought it would do well. she is a very vivacious girl who had a lot of interests and does well at everything,so it is a surprise if it really wasn't doing well. i keep thinking its a shame she was shot because i heard her say she was going to do a fitness competition in a few months

  • Another C. Station Resident

    I agree with this write up. The question becomes what role does a troubled business or does the poor economy have in a tragedy like this and without a handful of other inside facts, one may not know exactly what set the tragedy in motion. My immediate impression when I heard the "it's the economy" justification was that maybe the business troubles were a catalyst to the tragedy, but that someone that goes to such an extreme must have some other serious inner troubles. I wonder if any actions from his past could be looked at as possibly 'telling' of such future behavior. I can't easily accept that a troubled business and a poor economy create murderous gunmen from otherwise 'normal' folks. I'd imagine there's studies on those that have acted out these tragedies and there's probably a long list of past red flags and that a poor economy and troubled business is the catalyst. It's a blessing that she survived and can be there for her child.

  • Venerable Bede

    It is my understanding that James was currently married to Yoko (the property is still listed by the city as such). And both wife and girlfreind (Dominique) were living in the same house together. Perhaps his stress was more than financial.

  • cameron station resident

    It is true that all three were living in the same house, as was james' older daughter from his marriage (still intact) with yoko. james and yoko were apparently married but not romantically involved.

    Dominique broke up with james, briefly leaving to live with her family in baltimore. she returned after about a week, though they did not reconcile.

    at the time of the shootings, James was living in a house with a woman he was married to but did not love (in that fashion), a woman he loved but had made it extremely clear she did not love him, plus the daughters of both these unions.

    dominique then left it to james to rn the coffee shop largely on his own. a friend -- another local resident had a party planned out that dominique was suppposed to cater, but dominique simply wouldn't do it. she had given up running the shop to make james deal with it. the woman (my friend) had to do all the cooking herself.

    there was a lot of anger that pre-existed the shootings.

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