Sometimes the lines are blurry. When the guy you learned to ride a bike with and the one you used to play hide-and-seek with become thugs, do you stay friends? When you roll with them, are you part of their crew? Or are you just hanging with your childhood friends?

Those are the questions everyone asked about Timothy Hamilton. The friends he had for most of his 15 years were in and out of the street life. But in Washington, the street life isn't neatly defined. A homegrown D.C. gang calls itself a crew. They don't have colors or signs. For most, the only requirement for membership is being from the 'hood.

Timothy Hamilton "liked dressing real nice -- he wanted to look good, like the guys who run fast," says his father, James Williams, "but Timmy wasn't into the rest of the life. Most of all, he wanted a job."

The week before Timmy was killed and a 16-year-old was arrested, Timmy's dad heard sirens outside their house and told Timmy to follow him. Together, father and son watched crime lab techs pick up a 26-year-old killed by a shower of bullets in their alley. "I wanted my son to see the reality of what growing up and being around the wrong kind of people can mean."

Timmy listened to him, his dad says. He was about to finish his freshman year at Ballou Senior High. He was confident he could pass his lifeguard test. He was dodging trouble, cops say.

On April 24, while leaving a party in the 1800 block of Trenton Place SE, Timmy walked into a beef that had been going on all night. The Parkland crew and the Robinson Place crew were clashing. Shots were fired, guys ran, the party was over. But the beef wasn't, detectives say.

When Timmy left the party, at 12:30 a.m., he hopped into a Toyota Camry with his Robinson Place friends. The Parkland guys followed and opened fire. The doors flew open and the Robinson boys scattered. Only Timmy, who grew up on Atlantic Street, stayed behind. He had been shot in the head and was alone when police got to the car.

-- Petula Dvorak

Timmy and his mother, Sharle Hamilton.