When the staccato beat of gunfire filled the air early Saturday morning, Fay Murray woke up and peered out of the living room window of her Anacostia apartment. Known as the neighborhood social worker, the mother of six was doing what came naturally -- checking up on her drug-weary community.

Murray was struck down by two stray bullets that shattered the windows of her family's third-floor apartment in the Galan Terrace housing complex on the 1600 block of W Street SE. She was pronounced dead at D.C. General Hospital before daybreak Saturday. Police officials had no comment yesterday.

The Jamaican-born woman was a victim of child's play. Several young boys had been playing with guns in the parking lot below, drinking and shooting into the air at 3:30 a.m., when two bullets landed in the 43-year-old mother's chest, according to family members and neighbors.

Most of Murray's children were fast asleep at the time. But their mother's violent death has once again awakened residents of this low-income housing project to the harsh realities of their lives.

"It's frightening to live here, and we're stuck," neighbor Yvonne Jones said yesterday with a shudder, glancing toward the gaping window of the dead woman's apartment. "Instinct probably just took her to the window. It could have been me. Last night, I couldn't sit in my front room, I was so afraid."

A week ago at the complex, two boys were shot -- one in the face, the other in the arm -- in a spray of gunfire that neighbors believe was drug-related. And last year, Jones said, her 20-year-old son was wounded in a nearby parking lot by a bullet meant for someone else. She said he has flashbacks whenever he hears shots.

Fay Murray also was frightened of the gunfire, the drug addicts, the all-purpose crime that has become so commonplace. And she was making plans to get her family out of the cream-colored, government-subsidized complex, where the stairwells are dark and the garbage cans are full. She had recently filled out applications to move to a new place, said her 87-year-old grandmother.

But Murray had never put her life on hold. She had raised six children of her own and had unofficially adopted two children from the streets. They slept in bunk beds and cots in two small bedrooms. She had a bad back and heart trouble. She was sleeping on the living room floor early Saturday.

Karen Murray, the woman's 16-year-old daughter, was sitting near the living room window and taking care of one of her baby nieces. She said she saw her mother get up, walk to the window and look outside.

"They didn't know we were in the window," Karen, an 11th-grader at Anacostia Senior High School, said of the boys below in the parking lot.

Fay Murray had often stood at her window to investigate the crime scenes outdoors. Because of her bad heart, she was often too tired and short of breath to take the stairs.

But neighbors said she had plenty of energy to dote on the children in the community. "Anything she could do, she would do," said Thomas Hill, a maintenance worker in the complex. "She'd make personal sacrifices . . . . She was loved by everybody in the neighborhood."

Many neighbors said they thought it was typical of the smiling woman that she didn't visit her family in Jamaica for 13 or 14 years because she did not want to leave her children.

Several of the Murray children sat in their dimly lighted bedroom yesterday, silently flipping cassettes in and out of a video recorder. Other children stayed with relatives in Mitchellville.

The children could not say how they would manage their lives without Fay Murray. "We loved her," said Richard Murray, 19, the oldest son. "She was one of the nicest ladies around here."