Neighbors seek answers after shooting near National Zoo

Some Woodley Park residents are calling for an end to Easter Monday events at the National Zoo after an outbreak of violence near the zoo marred a century-old tradition.

About 75 people packed a conference room in Woodley Park on Wednesday night, looking for information about shootings near the zoo Monday afternoon and April 14.

Blessed Chuksorji-Keefe, a ­seven-year resident of the Northwest Washington neighborhood, said the annual family day event should be abolished, citing its origin in segregation and three violent episodes in the past 15 years.

“Sometimes things outlive their usefulness,” she told the crowd.

Others said improving security would be a better option than doing away with the Easter Monday event, which has been popular among African American families since 1891.


(The Washington Post)

“Terminating this event would send a terrible message to the city,” said Woodley Park resident Nan Aron.

Two male teenagers were shot — one in the left elbow and one in the left hand — just after 5:15 p.m. Monday, about an hour after the family day event ended and visitors were streaming out of the zoo and onto Connecticut Avenue.

Several residents at the meeting asked why zoo officials don’t use metal detectors or bag searches upon entry. Some suggested restricting groups of teenagers who don’t have adult supervision.

Ruth Ellis, 43, said she is searched at other Smithsonian museums and cannot figure why the zoo is different. “Search my bag. Pat me down. I don’t care,” Ellis said.

National Zoo Director Dennis Kelly said that officials would “go back to the drawing board” and consider such options, but he added that such moves would fundamentally “change the zoo.”

Law enforcement officials had planned for months to provide a heavy presence at the zoo Monday, Kelly said. The zoo’s police chief, Terrell Wilson, said his officers were supplemented by D.C. police officers on bikes and horses and positioned in cruisers and by Metro transit officers.

Zoo officials had expelled about three dozen rowdy youths minutes before the shooting Monday, and D.C. police said a crowd of about 100 young men and women had converged near the front gate about that time. Within minutes, two shots were fired, injuring a 16-year-old and his 18-year-old friend.

The shots scattered frightened bystanders and forced officials to close the zoo gates, keeping people inside as officers investigated and tried to locate witnesses. Hundreds of people ran north and south along Connecticut Avenue after the gunfire.

D.C. police Capt. Melvin Gresham said at the meeting that officers followed the expelled groups as they left the zoo but were unable to prevent the shooting.

Police have made no arrests in the shooting and have not established a motive. Authorities also don’t know whether the shooter was among those expelled or if the person had even been in the zoo.

The grandmother of the wounded 16-year-old said he told her that he was in a group walking north on Connecticut, toward the zoo entrance, when he and his friend were shot by someone ahead of them. She said her grandson couldn’t identify the shooter but thinks he might have been targeted because of an earlier dispute. D.C. police were not able to confirm that account.

Some Woodley Park residents are angry with police, saying authorities weren’t prepared for the family day crowd, although zoo officials say the number was down this year, from more than 25,000 in years past to about 16,000 on Monday. Residents also said police had ignored other violent acts that occurred the week of spring break at D.C. area schools.

In the April 14 shooting, police said, a man unloading groceries from his car saw a youth fire several shots into the air in an alley three blocks from the zoo. Officers detained three suspects but made no arrests.

On Easter Monday in 2000, seven people were shot and wounded outside the zoo. In 2011, also on Easter Monday, a youth stabbed another teen at the zoo.

Clarence Williams is the night police reporter for The Washington Post and has spent the better part of 13 years standing next to crime scene tape, riding in police cars or waking officials in the middle of night to gather information about breaking news in and around Washington.
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