Prince George's Police Probe Shooting of Graduation Celebration

Shai R. Caldwell, 19.
Shai R. Caldwell, 19. (Courtesy of WUSA)
By Aaron C. Davis, Nelson Hernandez and Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 4, 2009

Two dozen friends were gathered on a street near FedEx Field late Tuesday, socializing after Charles Herbert Flowers High School's commencement ceremony, when a burst of gunfire turned celebration into chaos.

Screams erupted as bullets raked the townhouses along Continental Place in Landover. LaQueen Lyttle, 20, bolted for cover. A bullet cracked a bone in her right calf. She dove onto a porch as a second pierced her left thigh.

"The only thing I remember is getting shot and falling," Lyttle said yesterday in an interview from her hospital bed.

She said her best friend, fellow 2006 Flowers grad Kendra Adams, fell almost at the same time with a bullet to her shin. A wounded 22-year-old man collapsed on the sidewalk nearby.

Across the street, a 19-year-old former Flowers student lay face down between two parked cars. Shai R. Caldwell, the mother of a 15-month-old girl with pigtails, had been fatally shot in the back.

Yesterday morning, debris that littered Continental Place told the story of the celebration gone awry: discarded commencement tickets, crushed party cups, a wadded receipt for $28.57 in Hallmark graduation cards, bloodstains and broken glass.

Prince George's County police were attempting to piece together a motive for the attack, shortly before midnight, and said they were investigating whether it was retaliation for an altercation outside the commencement ceremony or an earlier incident. An uncle of Caldwell, Wendell Allen, said the family heard that the gunman had been at the gathering and had been asked to leave.

Police said they had little to go on: The shots came from the shadows. One person who was present thought a dark-colored Mustang had pulled up moments before the barrage. Police said people at the gathering had not provided useful descriptions, and investigators weren't sure whether they were looking for one shooter or more.

Police said they think Caldwell and the three injured people were innocent victims who had been visiting, laughing and toasting the graduation of younger friends. It's unclear whether any current Flowers students or this year's graduates were at the gathering.

Relatives said Caldwell attended Flowers as a sophomore and junior but transferred to Tall Oaks Vocational High School after becoming pregnant. She had recently graduated from a nursing program in New Carrollton and was looking for a job as a licensed practical nurse.

"She was looking forward to the rest of her life," said her cousin Tyrone Allen, 33. "This was such a terrible tragedy."

A steady stream of visitors stopped by yesterday at the Bowie townhouse where Caldwell lived with her mother and daughter.

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