A new year, but old gun problem

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 3, 2011

On Sunday, when the District's political leadership changed hands and city leaders spoke optimistically of new beginnings, six people were shot in two separate incidents.

No one was killed, but at least four of the victims suffered serious injuries.

In the first shooting, four people sitting in a car in the 1300 block of Congress Street SE were suddenly sprayed with gunfire about 7 a.m., police said. Three were taken to hospitals for treatment, and a fourth suffered minor injuries, police said.

About an hour later, the swearing-in of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and the D.C. Council got underway with a prayer breakfast. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who Gray announced last month would be retained as chief, was among the attendees.

Shortly after Gray's speech downtown at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, a second burst of gunfire broke out.

Two youths, believed to be 16 or 17 years old, were shot as they stood in the 4500 block of New Hampshire Avenue NW, a residential area where crime scene tape and flashing police lights are rare. Lanier arrived wearing a D.C. police windbreaker and blue uniform pants, a sharp contrast to the full dress uniform she wore at the swearing-in.

Lanier said the motive for the shooting was unclear. "This neighborhood is very quiet. It's been quiet for many years," she told reporters as residents watched from their stoops.

Police were looking for two gunmen who fled on foot.

Charles Thorpe, 21, said he was less than a block from the stop for the 64 bus when he heard gunfire and saw two young men fall backward and hit the ground.

Thorpe said he was shaken by what he saw. "Stuff like that doesn't happen here," he said.

Sunday's shootings were the first of the year. Last year, the District had 131 homicides, its lowest count in more than 40 years.

Guns are used in most killings, and eliminating gun violence remains a top priority, Lanier said.

"We've been successful in driving down gun violence, [but] when it comes to gun violence, it's very tough," Lanier said. "We always say shots fired - just because it's not a homicide doesn't mean it's not a dangerous crime. Any time there's a shot fired by a firearm in this city, it's concerning to us."

© 2011 The Washington Post Company