On the edge of the Capitol Hill historic district, where many of the houses are almost as old as the century, residents are accustomed to some of the perils of urban living.

Cars are broken into. As a precaution against burglaries, some houses have floodlights in back yards. Occasionally, near Watkins Elementary School at 12th and E streets SE, someone is robbed while crossing the large baseball field after dark.

But the drug problem that afflicts nearby areas -- and the violence that often follows -- is largely absent from these blocks just north of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. That is until Friday, when someone fired into a crowd at the schoolyard and wounded three people, including a 4-year-old girl who was shot in the jaw.

Yesterday, residents who grew up in the neighborhood, and those who moved in and renovated houses in the last decade, were left wondering whether the shots signaled a shift in the fortunes of a neighborhood.

"Let me tell you, that is very rare for this to happen. Very rare," said David, 31, who grew up in the area and declined to give his last name. He was in the playground watching his daughter, 7, and two stepchildren, 5 and 2.

"Watkins playground? Come on. There's a lot of little guys all up and down here."

The shootings took place at 8:15 p.m. by the playground's basketball courts at 13th and D streets, a popular gathering place where games often go past midnight. Police and residents said there was an argument, and someone fired four shots into a crowd.

One of the bullets struck the little girl, Sharon Logan, in the jaw. A man identified as Walter Logan was hit in the right leg. A neighbor said Logan was the girl's father, but police could not confirm that. A third man, identified only as Randy James, was shot in the back.

The girl was taken to Children's Hospital, where she was listed in serious condition after undergoing surgery yesterday. James was listed in stable condition at D.C. General Hospital; Walter Logan, who police said was just grazed by the bullet, accompanied the child to the hospital.

Police did not have home addresses for the three victims, but neighbors said they lived near the schoolyard, in a block that is racially and economically mixed.

Residents who have lived on the block for many years think that the shootings involved a group from the nearby Potomac Gardens housing project south of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The drug problem at Potomac Gardens is well known, and violence is not uncommon there. Since Aug. 23, two people have been shot and killed on Pennsylvania Avenue near 14th Street SE, one as he was coming out of a 7-Eleven and a second while sitting in a parked car.

But the violence has not traveled north, until recently. Thursday, on 13th Street SE and across from the playground, a woman said, she was mugged at gunpoint by a youth who followed her and her small daughter to her front porch.

The woman, her husband and two neighbors, all of whom did not give their names, said these displays of violence are new, and troubling.

"You have to take precautions," said one of the men, speaking of the neighborhood's problems with petty crimes. "But when they start shooting 4-year-olds, that's a different story. That's scary."