Beneath the glare of the street light, near the crumbling lean-to shack at the corner of First and O streets SW, gunfire erupted about 1:30 a.m. yesterday and a 17-year-old youth lay dead.
Homicide No. 179 this year for the District. No motive, police said. No suspect. And as the body of Calvin Weaver of 6 N St. SW awaited the medical examiner's truck, life around the crime scene began to stir.
With each homicide in each neighborhood in the city comes a crime scene. And with each crime scene comes a slew of neighborhood spectators, fascinated by human mortality, absorbed in their own curiosity at the drama of murder.
"I was watching TV and then I heard: bang . . . bang, bang, and I came running out," one woman told her friends as a crowd of spectators descended on the scene.
Each neighbor suddenly became a participant in the drama, re-creating for others the events that brought them to the scene.
"It gives them an excuse to congregate," said one 1st District officer. "They look at the body for five minutes, get bored and start talking with each other."
It was a surreal scene: Weaver's body lying beneath a white sheet in the middle of the yard, the sole of his left tennis shoe protruding.
Yellow tape with the words, "Police Line Do Not Cross," framed the body while crowds of gawkers assembled at the line, barely five feet from the body, paying their brand of homage to this 17-year-old victim no one seemed to know.
Like an audience, people assembled near the body in bunches. Half a dozen stood silently in the front row, studying the body's details.
A secondary line of 20 or more people -- the rowdy ones -- laughed, joked and caught up on their socializing. And in each direction for up to a block smaller clusters of people gathered, many in their nightclothes, awakened by the early morning commotion.
"You a reporter?" one man in the crowd asked. "Blacks killing blacks, huh?" He shook his head in disgust and disappeared back into the crowd.
"It's all around us. It happens all the time," one woman said of the crime. She turned irate at the thought of it all and the blame began. "It's the police. They don't know what's going on," her voice rising with each word. "They stay in the 7-Eleven while this happens."
A nearby detective broke the tirade with questions that got few answers.
Elsewhere, uniformed police officers themselves congregated in small groups, talking, laughing, socializing.
Conspicuous homicide detectives filtered through the crowd, trying to be inconspicuous with their questions.
Then a car appeared, moving south on First Street. Man and woman in the car, looking like they were returning from a party.
They drove past the crime scene, catching a glimpse of the body. They continued up the street, made a U-turn and made a slower, more deliberate pass.
Their curiosity qualified them as suspects. The police took down their license plate numbers.
"Shh . . . shh," someone from the crowd suddenly said. A truck was now approaching. Police began to move. The crowds followed suit.
One hour and 10 minutes after Weaver fell dead, the medical examiner's truck had arrived.
Conversation ceased. With technicians from the medical examiner's office now on the scene, the detectives removed the white sheet and began inspecting the body.
A police photographer snapped his camera shutter, bouncing the flash of his strobe off the body.
On cue, the crowd rushed forward, jockeying for an ideal position.
The victim, face down, took on a human form. One officer pushed back the people.
A yellow sweatshirt. Light corduroy pants. A very bloody head.
"If he gets up and rises, I'm going to jump on your back," one woman told a friend. Laughter. The silence had been broken. The murmurings began.
"He doesn't look no more than 19 or 20 years old," an elderly woman said.
Then a groan issued from the crowd. A detective had lifted an arm. Again conversation ceased. People jockeyed for position. "Can you see his face?" someone said.
A rhythm was developing. With each new move by detectives, the crowd became silent, entranced by the action.
Then came a new round of jockeying for the best vantage point, and the silence was broken.
Finally, the body was loaded onto the stretcher, once again covered by a second sheet. This time bloodstains showed through.
The crowd parted to allow the medical examiner to leave.
With the body gone, the crime scene lost its magnetism. The yellow police tape and the white sheet lay strewn about the yard, fluttering in the breeze.
And with the departure of the medical examiner's truck, the watchers slipped away toward their homes.
"Come on, let's go," said one woman. "We've got to get up in the morning and go to work."