“Could’ve been any one of us,” said one of the women,who is in hiding at a House of Ruth-operated safe house for victims of domestic violence. She looked behind me or around the corner when she was talking, only occasionally stopping to meet my eyes.
“Every day, this is what we’re all afraid of. He got her. And there’s another child without a mother,” she said.
On Sunday, 20-year-old Selina Brown was shot in the face in Southeast Washington, allegedly by the father of her toddler daughter, police said.
Brown, who lived in Northeast Washington, collapsed dead as she was boarding a B2 bus. She had been holding her daughter. Witnesses said the little girl was covered in her mother’s blood, and police said she had been injured by a bullet.
The toddler’s physical injuries were not serious. But her emotional well being? Forever scarred.
“I know I have memories from when I was that young. That child will remember this forever,” said one of the hiding mothers.
On Monday, police were searching for Javon S. Foster, 27, who is wanted on a second-degree murder count in Brown’s killing. But later in the day, police sources said that they believed Foster had killed himself on Long Island.
Witnesses said Brown argued with the gunman before boarding the bus about 5:40 p.m. in the 1800 block of Minnesota Avenue SE.
The bus driver, who police said was injured during the incident, went a block or so, fleeing the gunfire, with the dead woman on the bus, then stopped.
Brown is the stepdaughter of D.C. Police Officer Derrick Ferguson, said D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier.
It had to be especially hard to see that even a police officer can’t protect his own child from a bad — a fatal — relationship.
Lanier made it to the bus stop Sunday night.
“Horrible,” Lanier said. “Very disturbing scene last night.”
Brown was not a resident at the safe house where I stopped to talk to women. As soon as they heard about the shooting, they checked in with one another and made sure they were all accounted for. They didn’t know her name, but they all figured they knew her story.
“Our families don’t even know where we are, but every day at the bus stop, walking on the street, you’re looking around, worried he’s gonna find you. Just like that,” said one of the mothers, who kept pulling up her shirt to cover the scarring on her neck as she was talking to me.
She is staying at a place far from her neighborhood, far from the man who hurt her. But she’s still on edge.
Another woman, a mother of four children, said she is always nervous because she’s not too far from her old place.
“You’re just always afraid of who might see you,” she said.
At that moment, in the morning mist when a few breaths of fresh air felt like a tiny bit of stolen freedom, the women were ushered inside.
“Come in. If you want to talk, let’s talk inside,” said the director of the battered women’s shelter.
“We don’t want our location, our name, anything in the paper, okay?” the director told me, after closing the door.
The small group of women I talked to had been in hiding for about two to three months. They ran for safety, leaving behind the horror, but also leaving behind their clothes, their kids’ clothes, toys, favorite blankies.
“This time of year, it’s really hard to explain to them why we’re not home. Why we don’t have all their things, their clothes and what not,” another woman told me.
“You want them to feel as comfortable as they can this time of year,” said Lynea Woody, communications and development director for the coalition.
The temptation “to have the family together” at this time of year is there, for sure. Especially for the women I talked to, who left their abusive relationships mere months ago.
And that is why the violent incidents always increase around the holidays. Overall, the approximately 30,000 calls for domestic violence that D.C. police have received this year are a little fewer than the number of calls they received in the past, Woody said.
But in the past week, two women were killed in what appear to be domestic violence cases. On Thursday, 63-year-old Shirley Renee Tucker was shot dead. Police arrested her 73-year-old boyfriend, Joseph Chandler.
“The holidays are a difficult time, in general, but especially if you have children,” Woody said. “We sympathize with how difficult it may be to up and leave the family, but in some cases, the alternative can be a loss of life.”
And the women grabbing a few minutes in the fresh air Monday morning know that. Right now, they have their lives. And hearing the story of Brown on the B2 bus, the baby, the blood. They’ll take what they’ve got today.
For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.