When Callie Coleman talks of how her son died Saturday morning, how he barricaded himself inside an Anacostia row house, and how she arrived to find the house surrounded by firefighters and police backed up by an armored vehicle, she doesn't cry.
She begins to cry when she says that she and a group of at least five relatives and friends spent hours begging one police officer after another to let them try to talk Reginald Coleman into giving himself up.
"I feel that if my son had known his family was out there, he wouldn't have thought he was alone," said Callie Coleman yesterday, in the living room of her Mount Rainier home. "My feeling is that he looked out that window, petrified. I think he stayed in that house and died totally out of fear."
"When they say they tried everything, I have to disagree," said Clarence Coleman, a brother who was also at the scene. "To me, they didn't try the most obvious thing."
Police Chief Maurice T. Turner said last night he had no comment on Clarence Coleman's account.
Reginald Coleman, 33, whom police formally identified yesterday, died from smoke inhalation and burns to the body after a six-hour standoff during which police dodged sniper shots from Coleman, cut off electrical power to the house and its block, and used tear gas in an attempt to flush him out of a second-floor bedroom before storming the house about 3:30 a.m.
Police said Coleman, believed to be despondent over financial difficulties and disputes with neighbors, set two fires inside his rented room at 2106 Minnesota Ave. SE.
The drama began about 7:45 p.m. Friday after police found one man stabbed and another shot near the row house and officers drew fire from inside while trying to rescue them. Callie Coleman said she arrived at the house about 8:30 Friday night and left about 3:30 Saturday morning, after police rushed the house.
"I stayed until they told me they had sent for the coroner's wagon, and then I knew my son was dead," she said.
Callie Coleman recalled that early in the siege, "I identified myself and asked to speak to Chief Turner and a policer officer told me I couldn't talk to him," she said. "I was told, 'There's nothing you can do. It has gotten out of hand.' I felt as long as my son was alive and I could say something to him, then it wasn't out of hand."
Police spokesman Joe Gentile, who was at the scene, said police knew that family members were there.
He said that while it is not unusual for relatives to be allowed to talk to barricaded family members, the decision is made on a case-by-case basis. "We tried to reach the man by phone and talked to him through the bullhorn," Gentile said.
While police continued to investigate the incident that brought the chief of police and City Council Chairman David Clarke to the scene, the two men allegedly attacked by Coleman remained hospitalized. Coleman's fellow roomer, Donald G. Murriell, 42, who was shot in the stomach with a shotgun, was reported in critical condition at D.C. General Hospital. Lawrence Coleman, 45, a neighbor who is not related to Reginald Coleman, was in good condition at Greater Southeast Community Hospital with two stab wounds he received when he went to Murriell's aid.
Thanora Coleman, Lawrence Coleman's wife, said her husband got to the house just after Murriell was shot.
"My husband saw Donald lying on the floor in a pool of blood," she said. "He told Reginald to let him help Donald, but he said Reginald said, 'I'm going to have to kill you, too, Lawrence.' "
Reginald Coleman's family members said yesterday they trooped from command post to command post looking for a police official who would allow them to try to talk to Coleman and heard their relative used as the butt of jokes by police and firefighters.
"The police wouldn't let me cross the barricade," said Clarence Coleman, who arrived at the house about 10:30 p.m. "Every time I said I wanted to talk to him, they kept saying they were going to arrest me. My mother was scared and she told me not to get arrested."
"I came up and heard one officer saying, 'They got Rambo in there,' " a brother, Clarence Coleman, said. "I told him, 'His name is Reginald Coleman, not no Rambo.' "
Callie Coleman said, "Something should be done so that the police will not act so arrogant and ignorant in cases like this. As long as they knew who I was, they treated me well, but when they didn't know, I could hear them saying all kinds of horrible things and they treated me with arrogance."
Gentile said, "If she heard anything out of place she can file a complaint. She has the right to do that."
A police official said the death was "absolutely suicide," but his relatives are left puzzled.
Reginald Coleman wrote a will early Friday, and he asked Clarence Coleman to pass it along to their mother.
"He gave me the paper but he said it wasn't any hurry for me to give it to Momma," Clarence Coleman recalled. "We all sat down and wrote wills recently because we've had five deaths in our family in the past couple of years.
"I don't think he planned a suicide," he said. "He gave me the $30 he owed me and we were supposed to work on our cars Saturday. I think he did think a couple of people might bother him and he might have to defend himself."
Kathy Ball, one of Reginald Coleman's girlfriends, said, "He seemed depressed. I stayed with him Wednesday night and he didn't sleep at all. He stayed up the whole night. I had never seen him like that before."
Reginald Coleman was raised in Northeast Washington in the Parkside public housing project, which has been torn down. He graduated from Cardozo High School about 1971, his brother Clarence said.
After a series of low-paying jobs, he joined the Army, serving for four years, all in the United States. When he returned home he went to an auto mechanics school and a truck-driving school, Clarence Coleman said.
A marriage that ended in divorce produced two children. They watched the Friday night-Saturday morning barricade episode. They were there when the fire started about 12:45 a.m., when the police and firefighters doused the house with water and when the members of the Emergency Response Team entered the house at 1:45 a.m. to spray it with tear gas.
About 3 a.m., Clarence Coleman said, he sneaked up behind the barricade and approached the front of the house and yelled to his brother: 'Hey Reg, come on out! Come on out!'
"He didn't answer," said Clarence Coleman. "I figure he was already dead. As far as I know my brother died not knowing there was anyone out there on his side."
At 3:30 a.m. police found Coleman's body and called the coroner's wagon.