A 27-year-old Salvadoran immigrant who had been sending money home so his family could follow him here was shot and killed during the weekend in Adams-Morgan, a short distance from where two other men were killed last December.
Both incidents occurred near Columbia Road and 18th Street NW at the hub of a community known for its cosmopolitan flavor, vibrant street life and diverse ethnic mix that includes increasing numbers of both Hispanic immigrants and young professionals.
Some Adams-Morgan merchants interviewed yesterday expressed fears that the shooting incidents would focus disproportionate and undeserved attention on what they consider isolated incidents of crime in the area of cafes, boutiques and bookstores.
The victim in the incident that occurred late Saturday was identified by D.C. police as Hilario Vasquez Gonzalez, of 1443 Chapin St. NW, who friends said came here two years ago on a student visa and stayed to work in construction.
They said he sent most of his $300 weekly earnings to his wife and their three children who remained behind in Agua Fria, a Salvadoran town of about 4,000. He expected them to join him here next year, friends and relatives said.
"He came here to help his family and to help himself," said Mario Bolla, a cousin.
Police said Saturday's incident apparently stemmed from a quarrel over a woman that began in a restaurant and bar on 18th Street NW about 100 feet from Columbia Road.
As Gonzalez was leaving the Acapulco Restaurant and Lounge at 2450 18th St., about 11:40 p.m., police said, he was followed by two men and shot several times at close range. A friend of Gonzalez then stabbed one of his assailants, both of whom ran from the scene, police said.
The victim died at the Washington Hospital Center's MedStar unit of three bullet wounds in the back, authorities said.
Last December, police said a double homicide that occurred on a sidewalk near Columbia Road and 18th Street NW also followed an argument that they said began in the Acapulco.
Manuel Solozo, owner of the Acapulco, said yesterday that the persons from Saturday's incident "were never inside my bar. I don't care what the police or press say, nothing happened in my bar," which he described as a respectable business.
Adams-Morgan store owners and residents said yesterday that they were concerned about the possible impact the street-corner shootings would have on the reputation of the neighborhood, which aspires to rival Georgetown as one of the city's more popular restaurant and shopping districts.
"This area is in transition, going from an ethnic-centered community to one attracting more professional people," said Lee Cohn, owner of Homeworks Ltd., an Art Deco shop at 2333 18th St. NW.
"The shooting doesn't help the neighborhood," he said. "There is the constant attitude of people who have never been here that it's dangerous. That's mythology."
The owner of a restaurant on 18th Street NW who did not want to be identified by name said that merchants on the block were concerned that the incident might discourage customers.
"It's bad because people who see that, they don't like to go to the area . . . . It hurts business."
Residents interviewed yesterday appeared divided over whether crime is increasing or declining.
A father of three who called Adams-Morgan "one of the nicest places to live in the city," said, however, that "after 9 o'clock, I don't even take my kids out."
"It's not too safe for anybody -- adults let alone kids. The violence just becomes uncontrollable and unpredictable," he added.
Others complained of open drug trafficking on the streets, tensions between blacks and Hispanics, and rivalries between Cubans and other Latinos.
Police Lt. Charles Mussomele, of the 3rd District, said detailed statistics on crime in Adams-Morgan were not immediately available, but added that problems did not seem more severe than elsewhere in the city and cast doubt on suggestions that any dramatic increase has occurred.
One 3rd District officer expressed the view that language barriers may at times promote friction in the area.
Police said two suspects in the Saturday night shooting were arrested near the intersection of Champlain and Euclid streets NW and charged with second-degree murder. They were identified as Carlos Berrios, 21, and Jose Bernardo Carcamo, also 21, both of 3132 16th St. NW.
Carcamo was taken by ambulance to the Washington Hospital Center, where he was treated for an injury to his back and released into the custody of police yesterday afternoon.
Police said Berrios and Carcamo are being held at the D.C. Jail pending arraignment today in D.C. Superior Court.
One reason Gonzalez came here from the Salvadoran town where he had worked in a factory was that a sister and two brothers live here, according to friends and relatives.
The relatives said they will send the body back to El Salvador for burial.