Dona Elizabeth Ferguson decided she'd had enough of the fights and drug dealing going on across the street from her Capitol Heights home after a bullet shattered one of her windows several weeks ago. Concerned for the safety of her five children, she told friends she was planning to move as soon as she could find another place.
She never got the chance. Ferguson, 40, was fatally wounded Wednesday by another stray bullet -- the product of a drug deal gone sour -- that pierced another one of her windows and struck her in the chest as she was hanging curtains in her living room, Prince George's County police said.
While police moved quickly to arrest the four suspects on murder charges yesterday, neighbors and friends said they were still trying to cope with the death of a mother who went to great lengths to protect her family from the dangers swirling outside their home.
"I know Dona would say, `Please take my life and not my children's,' and in the end, that's exactly what happened," said Joseph Whittington, an elder at Freedom Church in Forestville, where Ferguson had been a member for 16 years. "To lose somebody like that, somebody who was working so hard to point children in the right direction, somebody who loved everybody she came across and never showed any hate for anyone, that's just a great loss."
Police said the bullet that struck Ferguson was aimed at a 19-year-old man who ran down her driveway as he was being pursued by the four suspects, who were armed with a handgun and a baseball bat.
Investigators said the chase stemmed from a drug-dealing dispute between the 19-year-old and one of the suspects that broke out two nights earlier at the Foxglenn Apartments in the 6800 block of Walker Mill Road in Capitol Heights. Looking for revenge, the four suspects returned to the apartments in a white sedan about 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, police said.
"What we have is a carload of individuals coming back to retaliate," said Prince George's County Police Chief John S. Farrell. "And it ended with the death of a bystander -- an innocent, hardworking individual. It's just a terrible, terrible tragedy."
Ferguson was shot as she was adjusting ruffled tan drapes in her living room with the help of her 9-year-old son, Marcus, and a 9-year-old nephew, police said. Her son called 911, but paramedics were unable to revive her. She was pronounced dead at Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly about 30 minutes later, police said.
Neighbors said it was unusual that Ferguson was even in the front living room. Mary Marks, 47, who lives in the Foxglenn Apartments, said Ferguson and her children spent most of their time in the rear of the house with the curtains drawn so they could remain as far away as possible from the drug scene across the street.
"You never see any of those people along this street come out of their houses," Marks said. "They go to work, come back and close their doors."
Police said they received a flood of tips and information from the community after the shooting, which enabled them to find the alleged getaway car and arrest all four suspects by late last night.
Farrell said that in recent weeks, officers have targeted the drug dealing in the apartment complex.
"We're able to solve homicides like this for one reason and one reason only, and that's community cooperation," Farrell said. "I said [Wednesday night] that if somebody from the community would come forward, this case was solvable."
Arrested yesterday in Prince George's and charged with first-degree murder were the alleged triggerman, Keith Arnez Boone, 22, of the 2200 block of Gaylord Drive in Suitland; Ronald Degaulle Rice Sr., 59, of the 1600 block of Addison Road South in Capitol Heights; his son Ronald Degaulle Rice Jr., 33, of the same address; and Leroy Dump Smith, 46, of Amherst, Va. Police said all were being held without bond.
Boone was arrested last night at a hotel in Baltimore, police said. He was being questioned early this morning at police headquarters. Police said the other three suspects made statements implicating Boone as the shooter.
Boone was arrested in January and was indicted on charges of possessing cocaine and marijuana with intent to distribute, according to court records. He was free on bond and was awaiting trial at the time of Wednesday's fatal shooting.
Police said that none of the suspects lived in the Capitol Heights neighborhood where the shooting took place and that none of them knew Ferguson.
Friends described Ferguson as a hardworking and devout mother who worked the overnight shift as a pharmacy clerk at a Giant Food supermarket in District Heights.
"We at Giant were very distressed to learn of this most unfortunate tragedy," said Barry Scher, vice president of public affairs for Giant. "We are talking to the family to see how we can be of help." He said Ferguson had been with Giant since 1991.
Ferguson also worked afternoons caring for children at the Academy of the Redeemed in Lanham, a small, private school operated by her church. In between her shifts, Ferguson would rush home to put her children to bed or get them ready for school, said Whittington, the church elder.
"She was very dedicated, but she did it with a smile," he said. "She was always joyful, always giving."
Ferguson was separated from her husband and lived with her four youngest children: two boys and two girls. Ferguson's 22-year-old daughter lived on her own.
A roommate from the church also lived at the house. But the only people home at the time of the shooting were Ferguson, her 9-year-old son and her nephew, police said.
The children are being cared for by relatives, church members said.
Staff writer Brian Mooar and Metro research editors Margot Williams and Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Dona E. Ferguson, right rear, was shot Wednesday night while hanging curtains in her living room window. She is pictured with her husband, Herbert; daughter Mckynze, center; and sons, from left, Joshua, Kiah and Marcus.
CAPTION: Police described Keith Arnez Boone, 22, as the triggerman in Ferguson's death.
CAPTION: RONALD DEGAULLE RICE JR.
CAPTION: RONALD DEGAULLE RICE SR.
CAPTION: LEROY DUMP SMITH