It began seven years ago, a vision of hope, the fulfillment of a dream. The young urban pioneers called it the Gnu Community, an "alternative to impersonal, cramped, uncreative living," their Xeroxed brochure explained, a commune named for the stately African antelope known for its adaptability to all environments and changes.
Taking over an old apartment building in the 1600 block of Lamont Street NW, the young whites went to this neighborhood of blacks and Hispanics, hoping to find some personal space, a place where they could give love and care to each other, share a little with their neighbors, and have it returned in kind.
But Thursday night, their pastoral inner-city dream became a gothic nightmare. Three men and a woman barged into their double-locked sanctury and pistol-whipped, robbed, bloodied and bound nine of the 20 residents. Screams echoed tragedy along the clean parquet floors.
"They were my friends, the people I live with, with blood all over their faces," said Naomi Reynolds, tears falling down her cheeks onto fragile pink ballet shoes.
This was not the first time the Gnus had been violated. Their communal home has been invaded three times by robbers since late October. They believe it can only get worse.
"I guess the word's out on the street that all these rich white folks live here," said Kathy Gildemeister, 23. "We're not rich, but we're not on welfare either. I guess they think that's rich."
"One of the cops told my mother last night that he wouldn't have his kids living here because every other house around here has a murderer or a rapist living inside," said Reynolds.
Thursday's incident began on a night like any other. Televisions around the house were tuned into the final segments of the 11 o'clock news. One of the residents saw two men and a woman loitering outside the glass front door, thought it strange and went in a back room to tell a housemate. When they came back, the three strangers were in the foyer. They were asked to leave, and did.
But moments later, the three and another man were inside again. "They had Dan Blum at gunpoint and dragged him into Carl's [Dahlke, 38] suite," said Gildemeister. "They hit them over the head with the gun and then tied them up with a cord and left the room. It was pretty gross, there was a puddle of blood on the floor where they were laying."
Blum broke free, Gildemeister said, and untied Dahlke, who climbed out the window and over the recently installed iron bars to go for police. The intruders went upstairs, banging on doors, roughing up other housematges.
"I heard all this screaming and yelling and banging," said Gildemeister. "Michele [another housemate] was screaming 'Is anybody here?' I heard somebody pushing against my door."
Blanche Battle looked out the peephole on her door and said she saw "a man holding somebody down . . . I heard all this carrying on. I thought I was going to have a heart attack, it was so frightening. I put up a prayer. I asked our dear Father to please not let them kill us here tonight. Then I called the police."
Seconds later, Lamont Street lit up with pulsing red lights."It was wall-to-wall with police cars, all the way up the street," said Reynolds.
The residents milled around the hall, dazed, shrieking, bloodied. Three were taken to Howard University Hospital, where they were treated for head wounds and released. About $60 in cash and a number of watches, bracelets and other jewelry were missing.
Police found one suspect in the house, a man hiding behind a mattress in a third floor bedroom. He was identified as Melvin Douglas Haniber, 24, of 1511 Park Rd. NW, and charged with armed robbery.
Law enforcement authorities said yesterday that Haniber was paroled on Nov. 27 after serving 11 months of a three-year sentence for attempted robbery and attempting to steal a car. The authorities said that earlier on Thursday, a D.C. Superior Court judge had released Haniber on a personal recognizance after he was arrested Wednesday on a burglary charge. He was being held in D.C. Jail yesterday pending a parole revocation hearing.
Recounting the quivering horror that had overtaken their home that night, Gildemeister, who works for a microfilm company, said she "liked the idea of this place when I moved in in July. You pay for all your meals and your rent at once. Everyone shares the work. It's like a family. But I don't know about this. Each time we're attacked, it gets worse."
"When I moved here 25 years ago," said Battle, a 70-year-old former domestic who elected to stay on when the Gnus bought the house, "it was nice, very nice. . . . We slept with our doors open in the summertime.But then, it all started to change after the riots in 1968. It hasn't been the same since."
Reynolds peeled an orange, her hands and voice shaking. "i'm scared," she said.