It started at 12:17 a.m. yesterday, when police were called to investigate a report of gunfire in Southeast. Just 24 minutes later, homicide detectives had three bodies in three places.

The concentrated violence -- which included the killing of a 16-year-old shot several times in the head at point-blank range -- was chillingly familiar to the detectives.

On Saturday, the same homicide investigators ran virtually the same grim drill, responding to three homicides in 25 minutes.

The result is a working day that turns into two days, and sometimes into three.

"I just don't know what's going on," said a homicide investigator who was in his 18th hour of work late yesterday afternoon.

He planned on going home, taking a quick shower, and then reporting in again at 10:30 last night.

These clusters of killings, police said yesterday, are no more than a statistical coincidence, a sudden grouping of the violence that occurs daily in the District.

About the only thing that stands out is the strain it places on the homicide unit, which simultaneously must process crime scenes, interview witnesses, write reports and develop each case.

"There's no relationship at all," Lt. Reginald Smith, the department's spokesman, said of yesterday's killings.

"Unfortunately, we just had a number of homicides, three, over a short period of time."

Although not related, the killings yesterday and Saturday all bear certain similarities to the overall pattern of homicides in the District. The victims were all young men -- the oldest was 28 -- and all but one were killed by what police reports refer to as "multiple gunshot wounds."

The killings nevertheless were a painful reminder of the toll that violence committed by the young takes on the young.

"More and more kids are involved, in one way or another, in some of this violence," Smith said.

Of the three homicides yesterday, a police source said, two appear to be drug-related, including the shooting of Coley Young, 16.

Young was shot at point-blank range about 12:25 p.m. on the 1200 block of Harvard Street NW, two blocks from his house.

Young, who was the father of an infant, was with his 15-year-old sister when he was shot, said a neighbor, who did not want to give his name.

Several residents who live on the block where Young was killed said they heard shots fired in quick succession, and one said he looked out the window and saw a man fleeing.

"I think somebody must have caught him right here," said Alfonza Huff, pointing to a blood-stained patch of grass in front of his home.

"I heard a shot, bam, and then I heard bam bam bam."

In his building on the 2800 block of 14th Street, a neighbor, Fred Harriell, said Young used to accompany him and his children to the beach. Harriell described Young as "tough but well-respected," a friend to his children whose killing remains a mystery.

"My kids took it bad," said Harriell, whose children are 10 and 6. "I told them he went to see God, and they're having a hard time dealing with it."

At 12:17 a.m., police found an unidentified 25-year-old on the 2300 block of Raynolds Place SE. The victim, who was shot while in a car, died at D.C. General Hospital at 1:05 a.m. A police source said the killing appears to be drug related.

At 12:41 a.m., Jonah Denson, 18, was shot while sitting in his car, which was parked on the 1600 block of Montello Avenue SE. Denson, of the unit block of 55th Street SE, died at D.C. General at 1:50 a.m. A police source said the shooting may have stemmed from a dispute that did not involve drugs.

Police officials are reluctant to read patterns into homicide statistics, because the pattern could change dramatically from week to week.

In May, for example, the homicide rate was lower than at the same time in 1989. But by July, historically the month with the most homicides, the killings were ahead of 1989.

So far this year, there have been 306 homicides, 15 more than during the same period last year. But despite the increase, the pace at which juveniles are being killed appears to have dropped. As of yesterday, 16 had been killed, while 40 died in all of 1989.

"There is just no way to predict it," said one veteran investigator. "We can go three days without a murder, and then we can have three or four in one day."