The call was ordinary enough. The man wanted to set up an appointment to look at some rings in the Wedding Ring jewelry store at 1909 I St. NW, co-owner Chris Booth recalled yesterday. Would Tuesday be all right? Yes. Could he have the phone number of the caller? Yes.
But by 3:30 Tuesday, it was clear that what had really been made was an appointment for robbery. Police led away one 18-year-old suspect; two undercover policemen and another 18-year-old suspect lay wounded, casualties in what had just become the city's 22nd attempted jewelry store robbery of the year.
Robbery -- indeed, gunfire -- is nothing new to Booth. Three years ago in the same store, he said, a would-be holdup man shot him through the neck and the bullet, which exited through his mouth, nearly killed him.
"The doctors said it was a miracle," said Booth. "It was a miracle nobody got killed here yesterday."
Booth describes himself as "paranoid" since his shooting and his cautious nature served him well Tuesday.
When the caller showed up for his noon appointment, Booth sensed "he looked like trouble." Booth quickly sized him up as being too poorly dressed to buy a custom ring and too persistent when Booth refused to open the electronically controlled front door he had had installed since the last robbery.
More ominous, Booth said, was what he thought was a gun butt beneath the young man's jacket.
Right then Booth and his co-owner, Barry Michaelson, decided to call D.C. police. Within minutes, five plainclothes officers were positioned outside and inside the 12-by-15-foot jewelry showroom. While one of the undercover policemen was posing as a showroom employe, Booth and his partner hid behind a bullet-proof enclosure with two other police officers, Booth said.
When the young man returned, he was admitted by the bogus store employe, Booth said.
"I heard muffled sounds and then the talking got louder and then the gunfire just started. We hit the floor . . . It sounded like machine-gun fire," said Booth, speaking from the small store whose walls and blue carpet are now spattered with blood.
Police said one of the suspects opened fire without warning after the officers identified themselves. Yesterday, the two suspects were charged with assault with intent to kill while armed and a related charge.
Booth said police told him 14 shots were fired, a figure police refused to confirm yesterday. One of the bullets hit Officer James T. Bovino, 32, in the abdomen. He was in satisfactory condition at George Washington University Hospital yesterday. Another grazed the head of Officer Andrew Merenko, 33, who was reported in good condition.
And at least three bullets hit Herbert Douglas, 18, of 719 13th St. SE in the abdomen, groin and hand. Police said Douglas was in serious condition. The second suspect, Jerome Fields, of 4230 Livingston Rd. SE was not hit by gunfire. Both young men attended Eastern High School, according to friends.
"We lose business" because of the heavy security, Booth said, because some customers don't want the trouble. But the procedures have probably saved the store from many robbery attempts, said Booth, who claimed that "it's becoming impossible to do business in the city."
Yesterday, friends and family of the two suspects expressed shock that the young men had gotten into trouble. Superior Court prosecutors, however, said in court yesterday that in addition to an extensive juvenile record, Fields had been arrested three times in recent weeks.
Judge John Hess, citing the severity of Tuesday's crime and the suspect's record, ordered Fields held without bail pending a hearing Friday. Douglas, who remained in police custody at the hospital, was arraigned in abstentia and also faces a bail hearing Friday.
"I would never expect him to get in trouble," said an Eastern High student and friend of Douglas who asked not to be identified. She was interviewed yesterday at the Potomac Gardens housing project where Douglas lives with his mother Lorraine and four brothers and sisters, according to housing authority records. The family has lived in the Southeast project for 11 years, records show.
"He is a nice person and he was brought up and raised in a good family. His mother's a church lady," said another acquaintance of Douglas, who also asked not to be named.
Douglas, who according to friends was known by the nickname Herky, attended Eastern recently. School officials refused to provide any information on Douglas, and his mother could not be reached for comment.
Fields left Eastern recently and took a job as a parking attendant at a lot operated by Colonial Parking Inc. However, he had returned this year to try to finish high school, according to an acquaintance, Nita Hawkins.
Fields was suspended from his job last week because of "an infraction" of company rules, according to George Cook, Colonial's vice president. He was subsequently fired early Tuesday, prior to the shootout, Cook said.