Since July 1979, about the same number of children have been murdered in the District of Columbia as in Atlanta, and almost all of the children killed here have been black.
But most of the D.C. victims were shot with a handgun or stabbed, usually by someone who knew them, in or near their homes -- not strangled and their bodies dumped far way, like may of the Atlanta victims.
In only one instance -- a fire that led to the deaths of three children -- has more than one child been killed here by the same person. And all but three of the cases have been solved, sparing the nation's capital the agony of Atlanta, where not one of the 26 murder cases being investigated by a special law enforcement task force has been closed.
An examination of the pattern of child murders in the District of Columbia underscores the conclusion that the killing of 26 young and young-looking blacks in Atlanta is a grisly aberration, with no comparable parallel found in crime statistics here.
"I just don't think there is any similarity between what is happening in Atlanta and what's happening here," said Assistant Chief Maurice Turner of the D.C. police. The child murder victims here, he said, "basically have been killed by a friend, a relative or an acquaintance and the cases have been closed [with an arrest] shortly after the killing."
In some ways, the deaths in Atlanta, whose population is about two-thirds that of Washington, are not automatically comparable with those here. Officially, for instance, 29 children aged 16 and under have been murdered in the District of Columbia since Jan. 1, 1979. Twenty-seven of the victims were black and 26 of the cases have been closed.
The city of Atlanta has recorded 25 homicides during the same period, with 22 of the victims being black and 12 of the cases closed. But the facts of the Atlanta tragedy are much worse than those figures, because a number of bodies of children who lived in Atlanta have been found in surrounding counties and carried as homicides in those jurisdictions.
A task force of Atlanta-area law officers and FBI agents are now trying to solve the murders of 26 blacks, all but one of them residents of Atlanta, that have occurred since July 1979. Twenty-two of the victims were 16 or under and most of the others, although older, looked like they fit in that age group.
This is not to say that the District of Columbia has not once been plagued with its own series of unsolved murders, albeit o9n a smaller scale.
In 17 months between May 1971 and September 1972, the bodies of seven black teenage girls from Washington who had been strangled, shot or stabbed to death, were found alongside freeways in the District and Prince George's County.
This string of unsolved cases, dubbed the "Freeway Phantom" murders, defied police until March 1974, when two former D.C. policemen were arrested, and later convicted, of murdering one of the girls. The other six cases remain unsolved.
For a while, a task force of some 40 D.C., Prince George's County, U.S. Park Police and FBI agents worked on the murders. In recent years, one D.C. homicide detective, Lloyd Davis, has been handling the cases.
Police say they believe they know who the killers of the girls are, but acknowledge that they don't have enough evidence to bring charges against them. The cases remain open today.
The task force investigating the Freeway Phantom murders was confronted with the same basic obstacles that have plagued law enforcement officials in Atlanta: no clues or eyewitnesses.
As in the Atlanta cases, most of the Freeway Phantom victims were strangled, after they were lured or abducted from city streets, and their bodies dumped far from where they were last seen.
The emotional outburst in the community here, at least in the first years of the murders, was identical to what is now taking place in Atlanta.
There were citizen patrols, parents panicking when their children were late coming home, and bitter allegations that the race of the victims was a factor in the police efforts to solve the crimes.
"For years blacks have been at the mercy of white-run police departments who held them at low priority as long as blacks were killing blacks, and I haven't seen much change in this," Calvin W. Rolark, president of the United Black Fund, said in a 1974 interview. "If white folks are murdered they don't stop investigating until they find who did it."
Police officials at the time, like their counterparts in Atlanta now, have said they have pursued the unsolved murders to the best of their abilities.
Since the Freeway Phantom murders, statistics here show about a dozen murders of children a year here, with most of the cases ending in arrests.
In Atlanta, before this wave of killings, there was nothing any more alarming about their comparable statistics: 14 children murdered from 1975 through 1978 -- 12 of them black -- and all of the cases closed with an arrest. In eight of the cases, the person charged with homicide was a relative.
The killings in Atlanta during those years were primarily by shooting, stabbing or bludgeoning, which is the pattern here now, and in other cities across the nation.
Since July 1979, when the first body in the ongoing Atlanta case was found, however, the cause of death changed dramatically. Of the 26 victims studied by the Atlanta task force, 15 were strangled or suffocated, and in seven other cases the bodies were so decomposed the cause of death coud not be determined.
In the District during that period, 22 children were murdered: 10 were shot, seven were beaten, two were stabbed and three were burned. Nineteen of those cases have been closed with an arrest.
Some of the most recently publicized killings involving D.C. children this year include the following:
On March 3, Darnell Jackson, 2, his sisters, Anita, 1, and Sheila, 2 months, of 214 Morgan St. NW were killed in a fire that law enforcement officials say started when a flaming can of gasoline was thrown on the blanket covering them in bed. Their father, Darnell Winfield Jackson, 29, has been charged with murder in connection with the three deaths.
On April 11, Derrick T. Johnson, 9, was accidentally shot by his 4-year-old cousin, Frederick Wilder, when the boy discovered a gun under a pillow in a bedroom, cocked the hammer and fired, in Wilder's home in the Savannah Terrace Housing Project.
On Feb. 14, 8-year-old Yulanda Johnson was found beaten to death in a wooded area near her Fort Totten home after she had been reported missing three days earlier. Her mother's sometime boyfriend, Rothell Anthony Perry, 31, of 831 Bellevue St. SE, was charged with murder in connection with the girl's death.
On Feb. 2, Marquis Copeland, 6, was fatally shot in the head at 1367 Florida Avenue NE after two men who left a party at the boy's home returned and started shooting. Arrested and charged with murder were Roderick D. Robinson, 19, and his brother, Kevin, 21, of 1225 I St. NE.
On Nov. 29, 1980, Donnell Platter, 16, of 1448 Congress Pl. SE, was fatally shot as he was walking home carrying a bag of Christmas presents. these youths were charged with killing Platter during a robbery attempt.
On Nov. 27, 1980, David Seaton, a 15-year-old Maryland youth, was fatally shot Thanksgiving Day as he sat in a friend's pickup truck stopped at a light at First Street and Michigan Avenue NW. Police believe they have a suspect in that case.
On Sept. 10, 1980, Adrian M. Precia, 16, was fatally shot in the auditorium at Spingarn High School at 20th Street and Benning Road NE when he and some friends were passing around a gun Michael Joseph Pratt, 18, a Springarn High School student, was charged with manslaughter in the youth's death.
On Sept. 2, 1979, Rodney Lee Jones, 14, of 444 Ridge st. NW was fatally shot in the chest in a small grocery store at 2535 14th St. NW. The store manager, Edwin Sullivan, 20, of 701 Ethan Allen Ave., Takoma Park, was charged with murder.
In addition to the Seaton case, the two other unsolved murders of persons 16 and under are:
Shawn Better, 16, who was shot in the head in a parking lot behind 4505 South Capitol St. on Jan. 22, 1980 and died a few days later. Police believe the death may be drug-related.
Gloria Scott, 14, of Hanover Place, NW, who was found stabbed to death April 20, 1980 by a youth hiking through a wooded area of Rock Creek Park a day after Scott had been reported missing.
Police have also not solved the case of one 17-year-old, Shirley D. Gibosn of Temple Hills, who was found beaten and strangled behind a Gulf service station in Southeast Washington on Dec. 11, 1980.