Alethea Tracey Tate, 18, was reluctant to go to Gaithersburg Saturday night to meet her boyfriend, her twin sister Oletha said. But her beau persisted.

She took the Metro from her Southeast Washington home, then a cab. And less than an hour after she left, Tate was dying, shot by a stranger who was handling a pistol thought to be unloaded.

Montgomery County police said the shooting appears to be accidental. Police said Judy A. Clark, 32, shot Tate after pulling the trigger on a .38-caliber gun three times. Nothing happened on the first two pulls. On the third pull, the gun discharged, striking Tate in the throat, police said.

Oletha Tate said she and her family are outraged that Clark has not been arrested or charged in the shooting.

"My family is concerned that the police consider this an accident," Oletha Tate said. "My sister had never been to that house before . . . never met the lady that killed her. She pulled the trigger three times."

Oletha Tate said that the family grieves for her twin, who was the youngest of seven children. She said Alethea had plans to attend computer school and take care of her 22-month-old daughter, Keyvette. "I can't believe she's gone," she said.

On the advice of county prosecutors, police did not file charges against Clark. "Sometimes if it's a tough call or an unusual case, we ask the police to hold off pressing charges," said prosecutor Robert Dean, who initially advised police on the shooting.

The State's Attorney's Office plans to present the case to a grand jury in about three weeks. Prosecutors said the grand jury may decide not to return an indictment, but could present charges ranging from second-degree murder to reckless endangerment.

Yesterday, Clark sobbingly recounted the tragedy in front of a wall where the bullet's imprint was still visible. "I don't know anything about guns," said Clark, a legal secretary. "I had never handled the gun before."

Clark said her boyfriend, James Tucker, was cleaning his .38-caliber pistol shortly before 9 p.m. in the living room of their third-floor apartment in the 500 block of S. Frederick Avenue.

"I saw him empty out all the bullets from the gun," said Clark. "I said, 'Let me see it.' " At the same time, Alethea Tate and her boyfriend, Darrell D. Stoutamire, a friend of Clark's, arrived, she said.

Clark said she answered the door with the gun in her left hand. Stoutamire told Clark to put the gun down, she said. Clark said she told him it was not loaded. "The gun clicked, then a second click . . . the third click, there was fire, a shot . . . everybody stood in shock," she said.

Tate was pronounced dead later at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

With tears welling in her eyes, Clark said she wasn't pointing the gun at Tate when it fired. "This was a true freak accident in every way, shape and form," said Clark, who was hospitalized briefly for emotional stress.

Clark said she has been devastated by the shooting. "I'm going to have to live with this for the rest of my life. Somehow I hope all of us -- myself and {Tate's} family -- can use this tragedy to bring forth something positive in our lives," she said. "That's all we can do."