Tyrone Hammond was seven when he died. It was 1971 and warm for Christmas Eve. He was playing outside with some buddies, sliding down the hill behind his Brightwood home on a carboard sled, not really caring that there wasn't any snow.
Then one time down he didn't get up. He just lay there in the alley, blood oozing from cuts on his neck and shoulder. His brother Frank ran home to get mom, but when she got there it was already too late. A doctor found a .45-caliber slug in his spine the next day. The case remained unsolved.
Eight years and one month later, on Jan. 21 this year, death struck the Hammond family again. After an argument over rent money mushroomed into a brawl, another brother, William, 18, pumped five or six rounds from a small caliber pistol into Frank. He was 21.
"I just killed my brother because I was tire of him messing with me," William Hammond told police when he turned himself in.
William was acquitted last Friday after pleading self defense. During the course of the D.C. Superior Court trial, a witness testified that the dead brother, Frank, had privately confessed to him the murder of young Tyrone back in 1971.
On the basis of this testimony, D.C. police have now closed the file on Tyrone Hammond's death.
The Hammond story is a complex one, a tale of domestic violence and bloodshed against a contrasting backdrop of love. It is extreme, perhaps, but one that in less dramatic ways occurs often in this city.
District police records show that of 180 homicides in Washington last year, almost 40 percnt were committed by the victims' relatives or friends. With rapes and assaults, a police spokeswoman estimated, the figure is closre to 60 percent. Some 1,700 calls involving domestic disputes come into the central police switchboard each month. Countless others are phoned to outlying police district stations or are never reported at all.
"It's the frustration that people feel," said D.C. police officer Janet Hankins, director of the department's Family Disturbance Intervention Program. "An inability to correct things that are wrong all around you. A feeling of helplessness that becomes violence against the ones you love."
Dr. Monica L. Meerbaum, a psychodramatist at St. Elizabeths Hospital, agrees. "Out most intense involvements are with close family members," she says. "Freguently it's like a love-hate relationship -- feelings build up that are difficult to express and, over time, you learn to express them in a negative or violent way.
"Violence can escalate very quickly in a family . . . It's like a pressure cooker," Meerbaum said. "One person's frustration triggers another's. It all bounces around and gets worse until it explodes."
Hammond family members declined to talk with a reporter, but a longtime intimate family friend recently spoke of Frank and William, of their nine brothers and sistes and their mother, who struggled to make ends meet on a welfare check.
The Hammonds, he said, are a close family. "They got along, stuck with each other, loved each other," he said. ". . . They didn't let nobody (else) mess with their family."
The friend said he knew Frank and William best. The two were "loving brothers," he said, yet they were as different as two men could be.
The two lived with their sister, Michelle, her husband, Michael Alexander, and their son, Orville in a peach-colored, cinder block row house in the Eastgate housing project in Far Southeast.
Frank, the friend said, was six feet tall, about 240 pounds of muscle. "He never started a fight, but he always finished it . . . He has been shot stabed and hit in the head with two-by-fours . . . He was a beast."
At the same time, the friend said, Frank cleaned the house and cooked for the relatives he lived with, spending much of the day in the kitchen, preparing elaborate meals and shooing out would-be samplers of his dishes.
But, said the friend, "Frank had his problems too . . . He drank and he would get crazy. He didn't care what he drank. He just drank alcohol. And when he was drunk you just stayed out of his way. He loved his family, he was the protector, but when he was drunk, he forgot about things, forgot about the family. . . ."
During William's trial, family members said that Frank's drinking had led to violence many times. One sister testified that a scar on her left cheek resulted from a bottle Frank threw at her. Another sister testified that Frank whipped her. His mother, Irene, said he slapped her glasses off and drew a gun on her.
The friend said Frank had little schooling, and was never employed. He collected welfare to get by. He brooded a lot, rarely opened up, never talked about the future. And, the friend said, Frank never came to terms with his homosexuality. "That was his thing and the family accepted it, but you could see it working on his head."
William, on the other hand, is only 5 feet 8, 130 pounds. "He always has had a job," the friend said. "He's worked construction, government jobs, managed a parking lot . . . He always talked about the future, about how he wants to be somebody someday . . ."
William is quiet and smart, though he dropped out of school early, but he is also a man who, the friend said, "wouldn't let anyone be busting him in the face either."
When the friend heard about the shoting, he said, he "thought it was out the character . . . I would never think that Frank and William would get into it, but I knew also that if they did, it would be the end of it."
The end began for Frank at about 10 p.m. on Jan. 20. Frank and William, according to police reports, began arguing about Frank's contribution to the rent. Frank threatened William with a butcher knife and then punched him in the face. William fled the apartment for the night.
The next morning, according to police and court testimony, William came home and demanded that Frank apologize. Frank came at him again with the knife. William took out a gun he had with him and fired again and again.