D.C. market shooting kills 1, injures 8

April 1, 1994

Related: O Street Market: Symbol of violence becomes a marker for D.C.’s resurgence

One person was killed and at least eight were injured last night in a burst of gunfire in the historic O Street Market at Seventh and O streets NW in the Shaw neighborhood, according to D.C. police.

Horrified shoppers ran from the building while others, along with vendors, crouched on the floor in fear, according to witnesses. Several of the vendors, who lease stalls that face onto a central covered walkway, said three of their customers were among those shot in the incident, which happened shortly before 7 p.m.

Police said two men wearing ski masks got out of a car outside the market at the O Street entrance, walked up to the door and started firing. Dozens of shell casings littered the walkway just outside as well as inside the doorway.

As the gunmen fired, some customers waiting to buy their dinner fell to the floor and crawled away to safety.

“There were gunshots and people all over the place, running, screaming and asking for help,” said Bishop Clarence Long, of Scripture Cathedral, at Ninth and O streets NW.

Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, City Administrator Robert L. Mallett and Police Chief Fred Thomas visited the chaotic scene. Thomas said the victims ranged in age from an infant to a person over 60. One 15-year-old boy, identified as Duwan A’Vant, of the District, was pronounced dead at a hospital, but none of the other injuries appeared to be life-threatening, police and hospital officials said.

In a city where homicides are an almost daily occurrence and shootings happen often in many neighborhoods, last night’s incident stands out as unusual.

“I don’t know know of any time when we have had so many people shot in one incident,” Thomas said. Those who survived the shooting included five men, two women and a 1-year-old girl, he said.

Thomas, who toured the scene of the shooting hours later, as detectives were still questioning merchants, said at least two gunmen stood just inside the O Street entrance to the market and fired on a group standing just inside the door.

“Some of the shots went into a group of people standing about 30 feet away,” he said.

Police said they believe two security officers from an FBI building were among those shot. The two were standing in a group waiting to get fish dinners. Thomas said he didn’t know whether either of the officers returned fire.

The latest explosion of trouble on the city’s streets came as the police department is struggling to hire and train more officers. Violence here has attracted national attention -- from the many shootings in and around schools to the killing of a police officer last year and an incident in which six children were shot at a public swimming pool in Southeast Washington last summer.

Thomas had made many changes, including the establishment of task forces to deal with specific problems to address the escalating violence. But he has been criticized from outside and inside the department for some of the restructuring efforts, which have resulted in constantly changing assignments and fewer officers available for patrols.

Simeon Corum, a minister at the Scripture Cathedral, said “In Georgetown, you see a police officer on every other block. In this area, you rarely see them.”

The market, one of only two remaining city markets that served Washington at the turn of the century, is known for its inexpensive fried dinners as well as reasonably priced jewelry and clothing. It shares a large parking lot with a Giant supermarket.

Police said they were questioning one man and trying to determine whether he was involved in the shootings. The man, who was arrested, was carrying a gun, but police did not release his name.

Police had few clues last night about a motive, but Thomas said it appeared to be a retaliatory gang shooting. “There is no indication that it was a robbery,” he said.

James Syms, a salesman at the Beauty Shop, directly across O Street from the market, said he heard a lot of shots that sounded as though they came from three guns.

Syms said he couldn’t recall anything like it, or so many shots being fired, in the neighborhood before.

“We had two customers in the store when we heard the shots, and we got down on the floor,” he said. “Then we heard the police and firetrucks arriving.”

Inside the market, jewelry store owner Hyon Kim said he had never seen or heard anything like the commotion around the shooting in the eight years he has been in business.

“It sounded like automatic gunfire,” he said. “Several guys -- seven, eight or nine -- came running through the market. I was scared. I ducked down.”

At the Washington Hospital Center, the 7-year-old daughter of a woman who was shot in the market stood with a 22-year-old relative. All three had been waiting to buy a dinner of crabcakes and cheesburgers at the market when the shooting broke out.

The relative said she had dropped to her knees and crawled from the market when she heard the shots. The other two went in another direction. Moments later, the girl’s mother was shot.

Pastor Larry Bright, a minister from the O Street Market neighborhood who had come to the hospital to offer comfort, said the child kept asking him, “Did you see who did it?”

“It is not right that {the child} had to see this,” Bright said. “This is what angers me about the young guys in the neighborhood. Suppose one of those guys had shot her. I have a 7-year-old daughter, and I don’t want her to experience this.”

The market is in the same neighborhood where police closed a carryout for alleged drug trafficking last weekend, but officials said last night’s incident did not appear to be related. And it is within three blocks of a nightclub, John’s Place, where four people were killed and two others were shot in 1990. But last night’s incident was the worst, in terms of the number of people shot at one time, in recent memory.

The Shaw neighborhood is a mix of elegant, restored town houses and large subsidized apartment buildings. In the last 20 years, drug trafficking and gang activity have plagued some blocks around the supermarket and the O Street Market.

At Washington Hospital Center, where five of those shot were taken for emergency treatment, family and friends gathered to wait for news.

Suddenly, a young man burst into a waiting room, yelling, “He’s dead! They killed my brother!”

He was speaking of the 15-year-old, who was declared dead at a nearby hospital. Family members embraced the man. Wails filled the room and echoed in the sterile hospital hallway. Staff writers Ruben Castaneda and Debbi Wilgoren contributed to this report.

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