By Theola Labbé-DeBose and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The D.C. middle school student shot and killed Tuesday afternoon at a Northeast Washington housing complex was an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire of two rival groups fighting over stolen guns, police and law enforcement sources said Wednesday.
Police and other sources say Davonta Artis, 15, was killed when teenagers from 37th Place SE and Clay Terrace, a neighborhood about two miles away, got into a dispute in the 5300 block of Clay Terrace NE, and there was an exchange of gunfire. Daquan Tibbs, 18, who lived in the 200 block of 37th Place SE, was also killed. Three other teenage boys were wounded.
Police believe the shooting might have resulted from the theft of money and guns from members of the 37th Place crew. Its members went to Clay Terrace on Tuesday looking to get them back, according to a law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing. The source stressed that detectives are exploring other possible motives for the tension between the groups but are focusing on the guns.
Police think members of the 37th Place group arrived at Clay Terrace in a black sport-utility vehicle, got out and exchanged words with teens from Clay Terrace. "They didn't want the money back; they wanted the guns back," the source said. "That's when the bullets started flying."
Investigators recovered three handguns from the scene Tuesday night, sources said. Police also recovered shell casings from four calibers of guns.
Two law enforcement sources said that one of the wounded is the son of a D.C. police officer assigned to the special operations division and that a gun was found near him. That teenager remains hospitalized in critical condition, police said, and the sources said investigators don't know what involvement, if any, that youth had in the shooting.
Chief Cathy L. Lanier said that police have gotten some cooperation from the community but that they need more witnesses to step forward.
"Information is coming in, and I commend those who have come forward," Lanier said in an interview, "but we need it to keep coming in."
Police arrested one person Tuesday afternoon who was seen running near the scene. He was found with a gun and charged with possession of a pistol without a license, two law enforcement sources said. Investigators served a search warrant at that person's home Wednesday and recovered what appeared to be a replica of an assault weapon, a police source said. That arrest has not been linked to Tuesday's shooting.
The shooting happened shortly after 4 p.m., and police said Wednesday that it appears Davonta was a bystander, not a target.
Davonta's cousin, John Reddick, said Davonta was a well-behaved teen who minded his parents and met his 8:30 p.m. curfew. He had an older and a younger brother, Reddick said, and had grown up in Clay Terrace, a public housing project where police have battled violence and drug activity.
Davonta liked hanging out with his brothers and was especially fond of playing with his nephew, born in January, Reddick said. Davonta threw a football on the patch of worn grass outside his apartment building, shot hoops on the nearby court and visited friends' houses to play video games.
"He wasn't bad, not at all," Reddick said.
Davonta's mother, Angela Artis, 42, and father, William Demus, 47, said they wanted to mourn privately and declined to comment Wednesday after returning home from viewing Davonta's body.
Ronald Moten of Peaceoholics, a nonprofit group that works on neighborhood truces, said that police have done a good job catching gunmen and locking them up but that Tuesday's shooting shows a deep problem at Clay Terrace.
"If we don't start to change the mentality of these children, it's about to explode," Moten said.
D.C. Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), whose ward includes 37th Place and Clay Terrace, said she plans to have police and residents discuss the shooting at a previously scheduled Oct. 29 public safety meeting.
"I want to send a message to the families: We're not going to let anyone take over our community," Alexander said. "If there is trouble going on, we need to report that. We have to take ownership and accountability in our neighborhood and not accept this violence as business as usual."
At Ronald H. Brown Middle School, where Davonta was a student, 15 grief counselors visited classrooms Wednesday to help students cope, Principal Darrin Slade said. Slade said Davonta was new to the school this year and was "well behaved and pretty quiet."
"It's just sad that this happened, but he was not a problem student," Slade said.
Tibbs's mother, who spoke about her son on condition of anonymity out of concern for her safety, said Tibbs was visiting a friend in the Clay Terrace area. She said Tibbs did not have problems with other neighborhoods and never expressed concern for his safety.
"He was an average teenager," she said. "He played basketball and football. I'm not going to say he was the goodest child, but he ain't do nothing to nobody."
However, his mother said, Tibbs dropped out of Cardozo High School because of neighborhood rivalries that often played out in school hallways.
"It's too much rivals going on in the neighborhoods," she said.
"It's a whole lot of stuff going on out here, and it's crazy. Now, Daquan was going to go where he wanted to go. He wasn't scared of anything."
As she spoke, standing outside 37th Place and 37th Street SE, a police car parked on the street stood watch.
"If police want to do something, they can find the person who murdered my child," she said.
Staff writers Yamiche Alcindor, Paul Duggan and Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.