By Mary Beth Sheridan and Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, July 30, 2007
It was about 11 p.m., and Raymond Harris and his family were saying goodbye to their relatives in Northeast Washington, about to head for the car and the trip back to Maryland. Harris ducked into his cousin's apartment to pick up some bags, leaving his wife and children outside, when he heard the chilling sound.
Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.
One or two gunmen on foot had opened fire on a group of chatting adults and game-playing children outside the four-story building, part of the sprawling Edgewood Terrace complex. Four adults and three children were hit, including Harris's youngest, Jemila.
"My daughter's 3 years old!" Harris exclaimed yesterday after visiting her at Children's Hospital, where she was recuperating from the previous night's attack. Looking weary and dazed, the 35-year-old District Heights resident appeared to be at a loss for words. "I hope they catch whoever did this," he said. His wife was also one of the shooting victims.
Five of the seven victims were treated and released. The others are hospitalized with injuries that are not life-threatening, authorities said yesterday.
The shootings stunned city officials, especially because they occurred during a weekend when police presence was high as part of "All Hands on Deck," a summer crime-fighting plan. All available members of the 3,300-officer D.C. police force were to work two eight-hour shifts this past weekend -- many on foot, on bikes, on Segways and in cars.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said the initiative wasn't a failure.
"This is a great strategy," he said, "but there's no way in the world we're going to eliminate all crime, especially when people are this brazen."
Police said they had not established a motive or made any arrests. None of the victims seemed to know the gunmen, they said.
"It may be random," Jennifer Greene, commander of the 5th Police District, said at a news conference.
Some people at the complex, though, had foreseen trouble. One resident said there was a "beef" between young men living there and another group from Euclid Street NW.
The gunmen "were supposed to be shooting at some other guys" when they approached the building, in the 600 block of Edgewood Street, Saturday night, the resident said. When the gunmen didn't see their intended victims, she said, they began "just shooting everywhere."
The resident did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals.
A security guard at the complex said he had feared more violence after unknown men exchanged gunfire in a parking lot there Friday night, damaging cars but not wounding anyone.
"It is something that will probably be ongoing," said the guard, Rodney Malone.
Police said they had received no report of a Friday night shooting.
Edgewood Terrace, a complex of subsidized public and private housing, was nicknamed "Little Beirut" in the mid-1980s for its violence, chaos and dilapidated condition. But after a 10-year, $76 million rehabilitation project was completed in 2003, it was considered a success story.
Now, residents say, crime has returned. A year ago, an adult and a 14-year-old boy were shot in a courtyard there. In May, a 15-year-old and three other people were wounded by gunfire on a playground. Last month, police killed a man at the complex after he pointed a gun at them.
In the latest incident, a group of residents and their visitors were outside the red-brick apartment building late Saturday when two men approached, according to witnesses and police. At least one of the men opened fire, they said.
"Everyone started running. They yelled, 'Get the kids!' " said the resident who did not want to be identified. Adults grabbed children who had been playing on the sidewalk and on a small patch of grass.
Harris said his wife, Nikea, threw herself against her 3-year-old. A bullet tore through her thigh and into the girl's back, Harris said.
Malone, the security guard, heard the shooting from a few buildings away. It sounded like a semiautomatic pistol, said the guard, who was a weapons specialist in the Army years ago. He and several other guards raced to the scene.
"It was very chaotic," he said, with people crying and yelling. "A lot of people were saying, 'Oh my God!' "
Among the victims treated at hospitals and released were a 7-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy. Jemila Harris and an unidentified 34-year-old man, who was also shot in the back, are still being treated, police said.
The shooting was so wild that one bullet smashed through the window of a third-story apartment, leaving a hole the size of a dinner plate.
Across the city, there have been fewer shootings this year than during the same period last year, police said. But homicides are up by about 5 percent, with 104 this year. Concern about crime spiked this month after 11 people were wounded in a string of shootings east of the Anacostia River.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier announced yesterday that she was beefing up patrols in the Edgewood neighborhood and that officers will be going door-to-door seeking information about the crime.
The Edgewood shootings occurred a day after law enforcement officers helped throw a peaceful community event -- a block party -- at the site as part of the surge in police presence.