Jesse Lee Williams, 74, said that at first he did not notice anything suspicious about the three young men who were sitting on the apartment building's front steps Wednesday evening. But then the youths followed him inside the building and into the elevator.

As the elevator's red door closed and after a brief conversation, Williams said one of the youths grabbed him around his throat and the others scrambled to turn off the elevator light and push the button to descent to the basement of the six-story building on R Street NW.

In the moments of darkness that followed, Williams said, the youths rumaged through the pockets of his khaki-colored suits. They did not know just under his armpit, Williams' right hand was holding a .22 caliber revolver.

During the struggle, Williams said he fired twice. One of the shots struck the juvenile who grabbed him in the chest and the other missed.

The wounded youth, a juvenile, was in fair condition at Howard University Hospital last night, a hospital spokesman said.

Another youth has been arrested, police said, and they are searching for a third. Those arrested have been charged with attempted robberty.

Williams, who said he has been robbed "five or six times" during the more than 40 years he has lived in the District, does not have a permit to carry a weapon, police said.

D.C. police said they had turned over Williams' case to the U.S. Attorney's office for consideration. A spokesman for that office said a hearing would be held.

Sitting underneath a matted color reproduction of Robert and John F. Kennedy on the wall inside his two-bedroom apartment yesterday, Williams chain-smoked Pall Malls.

"It surprises me that I might have to face charges," Williams said.He said he had carried the gun every day for protection for the past three years but had never registered the weapon because it belongs to a friend and Williams believed that the gun would be taken from him if he registered it.

"I carried it out of fear that something like this might happen," he said. "Because I did have it, I am alive right now and not hurt. It saved my life."

During the struggle with the youths inside the elevator, Williams said, "I knew what I was going to do and I just waited for the chance to do it. I was afraid of what they might do to me once we got down into the basement."

When the elevator door opened, Williams said, the youth who had grabbed him from behind relaxed his grip. That's when he fired, wounding the youth in the chest. The youths fled into a room in the basement from which they all escaped. The wounded youth was arrested when he appeared at the hospital for treatment.

Williams' wife Marion, siad she knew something was wrong when her husband was late coming home from his job at Paul Young's restaurant, where he works as a cook. "I was late (coming home) because I was cooking stuffed flounder for the president," Williams said with a smile. The president and Mrs. Carter dined Wednesday night at Young's.