Press Room to Honor Reporter, Again
Thursday, March 1, 2007
Reporters at the John A. Wilson Building aren't always accorded the highest respect from government pols.
The press room, a cramped, boxy space tucked near the bathrooms on the fifth floor, is such an afterthought that there is nary a sign on the door.
That will change soon, thanks to WTOP investigative reporter Mark Segraves, who will hold a press room dedication March 12 to put up a plaque in honor of a fallen comrade: WHUR's Maurice Williams, killed at the city building 30 years ago next week.
On March 9, 1977, 12 gunmen burst into city hall, then known as the District Building, and two other buildings. They shot and killed Williams and injured several dozen others as they took 149 hostages, whom they held for 39 hours until surrendering to police.
The siege was the work of Hanafi Muslims. Among those injured was then-council member Marion Barry, who would go on to serve four terms as mayor and then return to the council from Ward 8. Barry (D) was hit above the heart by a ricocheted shotgun pellet. He was removed out a window and rushed to a hospital, where doctors said he had avoided death by inches.
Williams was a 24-year-old reporter for WHUR-FM radio. He and reporter Stephen Coulter of the Washington Afro-American got off the elevator, saw two security guards inching toward the council office doors and heard a shotgun blast, according to a Washington Post account of the incident.
In memory of Williams, a plaque was later placed outside the door of the fifth floor press room that read: "The first reporter killed in the District Building in the line of duty."
The plaque was lost when the District Building changed hands between the city and the federal government. When the city got the building back a few years ago, the plaque was not to be found.
Segraves said Williams's mother, city leaders and reporters, including some who covered city hall at the time of the incident, have been invited to the dedication. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Barry are scheduled to read proclamations, as is WUSA Channel 9 reporter Bruce Johnson, who was a rookie when he covered the siege.
Segraves said he has ordered a new $400 plaque that reads: "Maurice Williams Memorial Press Room."
Segraves said the idea came to him when Bill Rice, a longtime city agency spokesman, informed him of the missing plaque a few years ago.
"I really felt it was important to give the press an identity," Segraves said. "There's no recognition here saying what happened. This is a perfect scenario to right a wrong. . . . A lot of young reporters don't even know about the siege. They didn't know Barry had been shot. Putting up a plaque gives the room some history, some personality. It says, 'We were here.' "