A Deadly Toll: Nine Hours, Seven Lives

D.C. Police Seek Answers to Last Week's Violence, Prepare for Anti-Crime Checkpoint

Relatives and residents grapple with one of Washington D.C.'s most violent weekends in recent memory.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 7, 2008; Page B01

Diane Groomes finally got home about 3 a.m. and caught maybe an hour's sleep before a familiar sound jolted her awake: her pager.

As an assistant D.C. police chief, Groomes is always on call, and she had worked for hours at the scenes of three shootings before driving home for some shut-eye. Now, at 4:30 a.m. last Saturday, her pager was beeping again from under her pillow, where she was sure to hear it. Groomes squinted at the message screen. "It said 5D was working three deceased, 1100 block of Holbrook," she recalled.

"So I jump up, and I'm like: 'What? You got to be kidding!' "

It was a triple homicide in the 5th District, a swath of Northeast Washington where police had added patrols, stepped up investigations and targeted illegal guns in response to a sudden spike in violence. Officers had been close enough to hear the shots on Holbrook Street, but not so close that they could stop the attack or catch the killer.

In nearly 18 years on the force, Groomes had experienced few evenings so bloody. The body count after the Holbrook shootings was six dead in seven hours at the start of last weekend -- and the overnight toll would rise to seven with the discovery of yet another homicide victim a few minutes after dawn. The killings were unrelated, all taking place within a two-mile radius. Only one arrest has been made.

This is a look at those deadly hours that led police to ratchet up enforcement, and an accounting of the slain: an angry ex-boyfriend killed by police after a domestic dispute; a furniture mover who might have wounded his killer in a gunfight; a street-corner dice player who rolled snake eyes for the last time; three friends, two of them mentally impaired, cut down in a hail of bullets; and an elderly eccentric butchered in the front seat of his old car.

The bloodshed on Holbrook was in the Trinidad neighborhood, where police will set up a checkpoint tonight in hopes of keeping criminals away. Police call it a tool. Critics call it a desperation tactic.

Pulling up to the Holbrook crime scene in her unmarked Ford Crown Victoria, Groomes, head of the department's patrol bureau, could see last Saturday's first gray light breaking. "As I walk down the street," she recalled, "I see bullet casings just everywhere. I see this gentleman just laid out in the street. As I continue to walk, I see another gentleman just laid out in the alley. The third gentleman, he was in the truck. He's just laid back in the seat.

"It's surreal," Groomes said. "It's like it's there, but it's not there, you know? You see human life laid out in the street, laid out in the alley. It's haunting."

Haunting, surreal.

The whole night.

Friday, 9 p.m.

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