Wallet and cellphone in man’s pocket save him from bullet in Northeast Washington

Peter Hermann/The Washington Post - Brian Harris had his wallet and his cellphone in his pocket Sunday night when bullets flew in the Edgewood neighborhood in Northeast. The items stopped one round from injuring Harris in the stomach.

The bullet headed toward Brian Harris’s stomach.

It pierced the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt and bored into his wallet, going through his diver’s license, a bank card and a folded $10 bill. It struck five more cards and broke partway through the wallet’s cover, shattering the glass front of his smartphone.

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There, the .380-caliber round finally stopped, a few millimeters from his flesh.

Harris, 45, who had stepped out of his apartment in Northeast Washington’s Edgewood neighborhood to enjoy a balmy Sunday night, smoke a cigarette and sip instant coffee from his favorite green mug, emerged shaken but unscathed. His wallet and cellphone had saved his life. “That’s what people tell me,” Harris said, unwilling to admit how close a call he had.

Others weren’t as shy.

A miracle, proclaimed his boss and co-worker at Catholic Charities, where Harris has worked for three years delivering meals in some of the District’s most impoverished and dangerous neighborhoods.

Even cops who had seen everything hadn’t seen this.

“I am generally not a religious man, but this guy is blessed,” said D.C. Police Cmdr. Andrew Solberg, a 26-year veteran who heads the 5th District station, covering the area where Harris lives. “I want to go over and touch this man’s hand or clip off a lock of his hair. I want to rub him and feel some magic. We’re all glad that he’s here. I think somebody was watching out for him.”

The shots rang out about 8:30 p.m. from an alley across from the apartment where Harris has spent the past 18 years with his wife and five children, some now grown. Police said they found spent shell casings from a .380 semiautomatic.

They don’t know who the gunman was aiming at, but they don’t think Harris was the target. At least four bullets sailed across Adams Street. One crashed through an apartment window; another shattered the windshield of a gray Chevrolet Impala; still another punctured the side of a black BMW.

Harris thinks he was struck by the first round. The impact shoved him back in his white plastic lawn chair. At first, the Army veteran, who was assigned to a field artillery unit from 1988 to 1990, didn’t know what had hit him. “Then I heard, ‘Pop, pop, pop,’ ” Harris said.

Incoming.

He dove for cover as more bullets flew.

Then he pulled his wallet out of his pocket. The hole reveals an archeological dig, layers of different-colored cards — a white medical card, a red bank card, his veteran’s card.

Sounding more angry than relieved, Harris said that had the bullet’s path been two feet higher, it would’ve crashed through his window; inside, his wife was finishing up dinner and others were settling in to watch a football game.

“The first thing the cops asked me was, ‘Who is out to get you?’ I told him, ‘No one.’ What I really want to know is who did this, and for what purpose?”

Harris has lived for nearly two decades in Edgewood, just off Rhode Island Avenue between Bloomingdale and Brookland, and describes the neighborhood as “so-so.” It was one of four communities targeted by D.C. police for a summer initiative, stepped-up enforcement to combat violent crime. Adams Street, a strip of neatly kept rowhouses and apartment buildings, is just off a main city thoroughfare.

Harris said he worries about what people now think. “I mean, what’s the first thing you think of when somebody gets shot?” he said. “Drugs and guns. Well, there isn’t any of that over here. ”

The day after the shooting, Harris went into his Catholic Charities office to turn in his plastic key card, which broke apart when the bullet hit it.

Scott Lewis, director of enterprises, education and employment for Catholic Charities, took a picture of the card to share with co-workers. “It’s amazing, and we’re really grateful that he wasn’t harmed,” Lewis said. “To think what could have happened.”

Harris’s immediate supervisor, Eric Curry, the food-service manager, said that his driver “is a true witness that God lives. That was a miracle, definitely a miracle.”

Catholic Charities delivers daily meals around the District to charter schools, elderly housing complexes and adult day-care programs. Lewis said Harris is more than a driver — he’s an ambassador who is the face of the charity to the people who need help the most.

“For many, our meal might be their only meal of the day,” Lewis said. “We want it to be a good meal. Brian makes sure that happens.”

Some on his route may have to wait a bit before seeing Harris again. Lewis said he gave him a couple of days off to recover.

Added Solberg, the police commander: “The only time you hear about something like this happening is in a John Wayne western.”

 
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