Roselle Newman, an 88-year-old invalid who had lived in the Anacostia area for 38 years, was shot and killed early yesterday by one of four intruders suspected of breaking into her home in a robbery attempt.

Minutes after the 12:40 a.m. shooting, D.C. police officers Hugh Rublolotta and Gary E. Nelson, on patrol and unaware of the incident, spotted four youths running from the victim's home in the 1000 block of Howard Road SE.

The officers gave chase but lost the youths when two ran into a wooded area and the other two sprinted across nearby Interstate 295. When the officers returned to the home, they discovered Newman had been shot in the chest as she lay in bed.

"Why young kids want to take an old lady's life?" said Dennis Newman, the victim's grandnephew, who stood outside the grayish, dilapidated two-story house where Newman had lived for five years. "It's not right. She didn't have one thing."

Dennis Newman and other relatives speculated that the robbers were looking for Newman's monthly Social Security check. "She had just got a check," Dennis Newman said. "They shot her point-blank in bed. They probably were going underneath the mattress to get her check."

"She just woke up out of the dark and spotted them," Newman said. "Nine times out of ten, she recognized them.

"Someone old like that, all they had to do was push her down," he said.

"They didn't have to push her down because she couldn't get up," said James E. Proctor, a 67-year-old boarder, who was in another part of the house when the shooting occurred.

Proctor, Newman's niece, Mary Robinson, and a family friend had gone to bed before the shooting occurred, Proctor said. He said Newman was sleeping downstairs in a front room and the family friend, who stayed at the house frequently, was sleeping in a nearby room on the same floor.

At about 12:40 a.m., intruders forced open a side window and climbed in, relatives said.

The family friend told relatives he heard Newman scream but thought she was having one of her frequent nightmares. He said he also heard a noise like a firecracker.

"He just thought Grandma was having another nightmare," said Elizabeth Robinson, a grandniece of Newman's. "But when he went to check, he saw blood on her clothes. He went running outside to get help."

Police said the intruders fled from the back door, taking nothing.

Newman was rushed by Maryland State Police helicopter to the Washington Hospital Center Medstar unit, where she died two hours later.

"She was a tough woman," said 38-year-old Elizabeth Robinson, who was raised by her great-aunt. "She had suffered so much. Then to die from a bullet is a shame."

Robinson said Newman broke her hip in a fall about 1 1/2 years ago when someone else had attempted to break into the house. She said Newman screamed and scared off that intruder.

When police arrived, she fell as she went to open the door, Robinson said. Newman was in the hospital for nearly a year because of the broken hip, she said.

When Newman came home from the hospital six months ago, her niece, Mary Robinson, moved in with her to cook meals and take care of her.

Roselle Newman "took care of lots of children," Elizabeth Robinson said. She said her great-aunt never married and had no children. "She was well known in Anacostia," she said. "Everybody knew her and she knew everybody."