A 17-year-old youth from Capitol Heights was in critical condition at Prince George's General Hospital with a gunshot wound to the head yesterday after he and two friends were robbed in a car in Northeast Washington Thursday night, D.C. police said.

Michael Edward Morrison, of Canyon Drive, had ridden with two friends to the 200 block of 53rd Street NE just before midnight when they were robbed by three youths with guns and Morrison was shot, police said.

Police said the residential neighborhood near the intersection of 53rd Street and Clay Terrace NE, where the shooting occurred, is known as a center for illegal drug trade.

Morrison, who attended Crossland High School in Temple Hills until last year but did not graduate, was a passenger in the car driven by a companion, police said. As the car drove on the 200 block of 53rd Street, three young men, between the ages of 15 and 18, waved the car down from the curb, police said.

The driver stopped the car, and at least two of the young men on the curb pulled out pistols and demanded money and belongings from the three occupants of the car. After giving the robbers what they demanded, the driver of the car accelerated, and one of the armed robbers shot once, striking Morrison in the forehead.

Drug dealers have used the quiet residential area as a marketplace for PCP, or angel dust, and marijuana for some time, said police Lt. W.L. Adams of the 6th District.

"We have frequent and heavy drug traffic there," day and night, often with cars double-parked waiting for their drug orders, Adams said. "We've noticed an increase in drug traffic from Maryland, Virginia and other areas."

Shootings are common there, though relatively few are reported to police, Adams said. "They're dealer against dealer, dealer against customer, or otherwise," he said, and are prompted by the large amounts of money that change hands there.