Two teenage girls were shot to death Monday night outside their apartment in Southeast Washington, prompting the formation of a police task force to investigate the case amid concerns that younger people are being targeted.

Natosha Adams, 17, and Melissa Payne, 16, are among a half-dozen teenagers killed in the 6th Police District in the past two months, said Cmdr. Rodney Monroe, of the 6th District.

Investigators believe Payne and Adams were intended targets, hunted and killed by someone they knew. But detectives have yet to establish what would motivate the slaying of a pair of chatty teenagers who friends and family said loved to shop and play video games and dreamed of attending cosmetology school.

Best friends, the young women were living a teenage dream with an apartment of their own. Their untimely deaths were a tragic outcome, one investigator speculated, of premature adulthood.

Jacqueline Adams, Natosha's mother, lives in the building next door. She said she allowed her daughter to live in the adjacent structure because of the teenager's heart condition.

"She had open-heart surgery in August," Adams said. "It was difficult to walk up three flights here."

So Natosha Adams stayed in the first-floor apartment vacated by her 23-year-old sister, who had moved to Rhode Island Avenue, their mother said.

Payne, whose mother lives across the hall from Jacqueline Adams, was always at the apartment with her pal, neighbors said.

The police department recently began analyzing homicides to confirm their suspicions that victims are getting younger, said Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer.

"The ages and the numbers of victims are conspicuous," Gainer said. "It's intolerable. We've got to take a very aggressive stand on it."

Monroe said Monday's killings hit him especially hard because his daughter is 16 years old.

"This is really beginning to alarm me. These are not young adults, they are kids. Kids. My daughter is that age, and she doesn't have a clue of what the world's about," Monroe said. "And the reasons for these incidents here do not begin to equate this level of violence."

Police found the teenagers' bodies outside and in the hallway of their building in the 300 block of 37th Street SE about 11:30 p.m. Monday, Monroe said.

A neighbor said she heard five shots, then screams.

"They were screams for help," said the neighbor, who asked not to be identified because she had complained about youths going in and out of the apartment with no adult supervision. "It was wild there. And I told everyone something bad was going to come of this. Something terrible."

A maintenance worker for the building said she had to clean up dried pools of blood Tuesday morning and tear down the blood-splattered Christmas paper that wrapped the door of Apartment 101 like a gift. "There was so much blood it looked like someone chased them and shot them when they were close."

Jacqueline Adams said she cannot imagine that her daughter had any enemies, and she believed that her daughter was responsible enough to stay one building away.

"She was always smiling and laughing and telling jokes. She loved balloons," Adams said. "Whoever did this just doesn't know what they did. They don't know what they took away from me and what kind of person they took from the world."

Adams said that since some of the security doors in the complex stopped working a year ago, she's been planning to relocate.

"I started packing boxes and I took down all the mirrors so I would start moving out. There was a drive-by shooting here this summer, and I said I was going to get us out of here," she said. "I just didn't do it soon enough."

Even before this week's killings, Monroe had said that he believes teenage girls are increasingly becoming the victims and perpetrators of violence.

Half of the homicide victims in the past two months in the 6th District have been female, he said. In schoolyards and in drug deals, girls are becoming more violent, sometimes carrying weapons and sometimes shooting or stabbing others, Monroe said.

Last month, there was a fight between two groups of girls at Woodson Senior High School in Northeast Washington. Schools such as Woodson and some in Southeast Washington have held special counseling sessions on teenage girls and violence.

Monroe said he suspects the issue is an outgrowth of larger societal problems, such as single-parent homes, where girls have grown up seeing their mothers face the problems of life alone.

"Everyone talks about boys being changed by the single-parent home. But girls are changed by single-parent homes also," Monroe said. "Many of their mothers have to project a tough image to not be taken advantage of. Younger girls may follow that model."

Girls also are increasingly involved in drug deals, he said.

"That's something we have never seen before," Monroe said. "It's a cultural shift and it saddens me."

Although the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI will assist the task force, Gainer said investigators have not established drugs as a motive in Monday's killings.

"We can never rule it out in a case like this," Gainer said. "If it wasn't these girls, one will wonder who were their boyfriends or their friends."

CAPTION: Jacqueline Adams, mother of Natosha Adams, 17, who was shot to death Monday, fights back tears as she talks about her daughter's life and death.

CAPTION: District police officer W.E. Jackson uses his radio outside the apartment building in the 300 block of 37th Street SE where two teenage girls were shot to death Monday night.

CAPTION: Natosha Adams, 17, above, was shot to death in Southeast, along with Melissa Payne, 16.