Playgrounds sat empty. Few children were playing outside.
Young men from the Nation of Islam, wearing their trademark bow ties, patrolled the area, offering a summer program for youths. The Prince George's police officer assigned to the community plans to provide drinks for children this summer.
In one part of the neighborhood, residents of a town-house complex have started issuing parking stickers to weed out strangers.
And along the main drag, cocky young men with suspicious eyes peddle cocaine, heroin and marijuana day and night to passing motorists.
Welcome to the 6800 block of Walker Mill Road in Capitol Heights, a troubled stretch of apartments, well-kept town houses and single-family homes with neat yards--all blighted by guns and drugs.
A mother of five was gunned down here last week as she hung curtains in her living room with her 9-year-old son and a nephew by her side. Residents are upset but not really surprised. Many say that, like the woman who was killed, they are working hard to move away just as soon as they can.
The area has been a trouble spot off and on for the past 20 years, residents said.
Residents say gunfire is not unusual but isn't often reported to police.
Police said they responded to 292 calls for service in the 6800 block from Jan. 1 through Thursday.
Two decades ago, much of the violence was centered at the Walker Mill Gardens complex, now known as the Capital Courts Apartments. But that complex has undergone a revival, and the management last weekend held an open house touting the "pool, playground, make a difference center, gas furnaces."
Residents of the block identified the current hot spot as the low-rise Foxglenn Apartments, a collection of earth-tone, four-story buildings on Walker Mill Road across the street from Capital Courts, where, on Saturday, trash was piled beside a trash container and several young men loitered in a parking lot.
Once home to professionals and young working-class families, many units at Foxglenn now are part of the federally subsidized Section 8 program. In many cases, they are occupied by young mothers with children who fall prey to drug dealers who threaten, intimidate or pay their way into the women's apartments and use them as stash pads or crack houses, police and residents said.
"There are problems with drugs and violence," said Prince George's County police officer George Nader, who has been assigned to the area since August. "We come and they run and we chase them and arrest them, but sometimes they plead to [lesser crimes] and are back on the street. . . . And a lot of times, people won't talk to us because it's the kind of place where everybody knows everybody and they are afraid to talk."
Residents broke with that tradition last week, however, after the shooting death of Dona Elizabeth Ferguson, 40, described as a friendly church-going woman who was planning to move her family out of the area as soon as she could afford to. Ferguson lived in a single-family home on Walker Mill Road across the street from the Foxglenn complex.
Ronald Degaulle Rice Sr., 59, of the 1600 block of Addison Road South, in Capitol Heights; Ronald Degaulle Rice Jr., 33, of the same address; Leroy Dump Smith, 46, of Amherst, Va.; and Keith Arnez Boone, 21, of Suitland, were arrested and charged with first-degree murder after police received a flood of phone calls after the slaying.
Ferguson, a pharmacy clerk and child-care worker, was struck in the chest with a bullet about 6:30 p.m. June 16 as she adjusted heavy curtains in her front room. Investigators believe that a 19-year-old man who was tangled in a drug dispute dashed down the driveway of Ferguson's gray clapboard house, and one of four men chasing him fired a gun, unintentionally striking Ferguson.
Neighbors who knew Ferguson said she and the four children who lived with her in the house behind the chain-link fence seldom ventured to the front, preferring to distance themselves from the drugs and violence across the street by staying in the back of the house.
"She didn't let her children play in front because she was afraid of the activity across the street," said Mary Marks, 47, who hopes to move soon. Marks said that when she does go, it will be the fourth Prince George's neighborhood she has left because of her fear of local crime.
The manager of Foxglenn did not return a telephone call to the answering service requesting an interview.
On Saturday afternoon, few people were willing to talk publicly. Elderly women stole glances left and right as they walked along a front sidewalk. A door into an area in one of the apartment buildings near the playground labeled community room stood locked. Young mothers described how they drill their children about dropping to the ground when the sound of gunfire erupts several times a month.
"I told my children . . . people could end up dying, and that means I wouldn't see them and they wouldn't get to see me," said Yolanda Vaughan, 27.
On a playground in the rear of the complex, three black rubber swings, a giant orange plastic jungle gym and a teeter-totter all sat empty. A fourth swing was broken and the mulch under the equipment--to pad a child's fall--was worn to hard dirt long ago. Two giant springs, once topped by riding toys, jutted out of the ground. Triple rows of barbed wire guarded a chain-link fence with a huge hole and no gate.
A few young men loitered outside, a small percentage of the number usually leaning against cars, cursing, drinking and being obnoxious as they openly hock their illegal booty, residents said.
People in the area blamed the apartment's management for allowing drug dealers and those who harbor them to remain.
They also criticized police for being slow to respond and failing to take a proactive stand.
"We have a community police officer, but you never see him," Marks said. "When there is a problem, they come. Then they go."
Nader said he has held meetings, offered crime safety tips and generally tried to get officers out to meet with residents.
"It's not that we are not aware of the problems. We are. And we are working on them," he said. Police have seized five guns from neighborhood residents since the beginning of the year, he said.
"We want to bridge the gap between the police and residents, and get rid of the 'us' and 'them' feeling," Nader said.
"A lot of people don't have a lot of confidence in the police, and we want to change that. Working together we can bring about changes, but we need [the community's] help," he said.
A woman who lives in the town-house development, Towns of Walker Mill, said the drugs and violence from Foxglenn spill into her complex. There have been several car thefts, burglaries and incidents of vandalism. A few months ago, the complex began issuing parking stickers to residents because drug dealers who work the 6800 block were parking there.
"The cars stop, the guy walks up to the cars and hands something in and they hand something out, then he comes down here and goes in his car then goes back up to the street and does the same thing, sometimes over and over and over in an hour--that spells drug dealing to me," the woman said.
Nader said police have conducted "jump outs," drug buys and vice investigations there, but he acknowledged that he has not yet met with residents at Foxglenn, saying management has not set up the meeting.
He said that as early as a week before Ferguson's death, police closed a crack house in the complex and that several investigations are planned for the summer.
But that was little comfort to one resident as she gazed through Foxglenn's front wrought-iron fence across the street at the pile of pink carnations, lavender mums, white lilies and red, yellow and white roses that make up a memorial to Ferguson.
"I hope those boys realize what kind of woman they took away from here," she said. "She would have been willing to help them out. Now she's gone. I hope they realize what kind of loss this neighborhood has suffered because of what they did."
Officer Nader can be reached at 301-420-8087. People who want to report crimes may call the tip line anonymously at 301-386-3232.
CAPTION: Friends and neighbors have placed flowers in front of a Walker Mill Road home, in Capitol Heights, where a woman was slain last week when stray gunfire went through a window.