By Martin Weil, Ruben Castaneda and Clarence Williams
Wednesday, March 31, 2010; A01
Three people were killed and at least six others were wounded Tuesday night at the District's southern tip in an outbreak of gunfire that may have left the city's largest number of victims in 15 years.
A 10th person was found shot several blocks away, but police said they were unsure whether he was a victim of the same flurry of gunfire, which one witness likened to a war zone.
Of the three who were killed, two died at Washington Hospital Center, a spokeswoman there said. Three other victims were listed in critical or serious condition. Shooting victims included six men and three women, possibly including a 16-year-old, authorities said. The other victims appeared to be in their 20s and 30s, fire officials said.
Three people were in custody late Tuesday night, but no charges had been filed, said D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier. Four police officers were injured while pursuing them.
The shooting occurred about 7:30 p.m. in the 4000 block of South Capitol Street as people stood outdoors and a gunman began "spraying [bullets] into a crowd," Lanier said.
Two people said the victims were clustered in front of a brick apartment building on South Capitol Street. Accounts provided by witnesses and neighbors indicated that the shooting may have been a drive-by.
Police sources said an AK-47 assault rifle may have been used. A man who said he was in the area at the time recounted the sounds he heard as "pat, pat, pat, pat, pat," followed by a loud boom.
Then, "all I saw was bodies dropping," he said. "It was like Vietnam."
Another witness said that as bodies fell, "it was like a pileup at a football game."
About the same time, a shooting victim was found a blocks away. Authorities said it was possible that he had been hit in the South Capitol Street outbreak.
The motive for the gunfire could not be learned immediately and was part of an intensive police investigation.
"It's going to take a while," Lanier said.
Police sources said they were looking into whether Tuesday night's shootings might have been linked to two others this month in the southern part of the District. In one, Jordan Howe, 20, was found fatally shot on Alabama Avenue SE. In the other, a man was wounded on Chesapeake Street SE.
At least one person interviewed Tuesday night said that some of those wounded on South Capitol Street had recently attended ceremonies honoring Howe, the Alabama Avenue victim.
The gunfire, several blocks from the Prince George's County border, touched off a chase into that county and back into the District.
The shootings in the Washington Highlands area came after a year in which the city, once known as the nation's murder capital, logged 143 homicides, the lowest total since 1966.
The trend has continued. As of Monday afternoon, D.C. police had reported 20 homicides this year, compared with 31 in the same period last year.
The number of people shot Tuesday night may have been the most in the District in one incident since 1994, when 10 people were wounded, one fatally, at a market on O Street NW.
In an eruption of gunfire in Northeast Washington last year, two people were killed and three others wounded.
The site of the shootings is east of Bolling Air Force Base and near the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant. It is about a mile north of the boundary between the District and Prince George's. One side of South Capitol Street near the scene of the shooting is lined with two-story red brick apartment houses; several stores are on the other side.
When the first rescue workers reached the site Tuesday night, they found a "very chaotic situation," said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.
At Prince George's Hospital Center, victims' friends and relatives hugged each other and cried.
Immediately after the shooting, police flooded the scene and investigators tried to interview witnesses.
"We're still trying to sort out conditions," Lanier said. "It's going to take a while to sort out what was behind this."
After the shooting, as officers pursued a van into Prince George's, two police cars crashed on St. Barnabas Road. The four D.C. officers inside suffered minor injuries, authorities said.
A helicopter that circled overhead apparently aided in the chase, which ended in the Condon Terrace area of Southeast Washington, where the three people were taken into custody.
Staff writers Lori Aratani and Hamil R. Harris and researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.