Some people around Congress Park knew Antoine Thompson as "AK-47," even before the teenager opened up with the big gun in the Southeast Washington neighborhood in June 1998. He was known to keep his weapon handy.
Four young men bear scars from the bullets fired by Thompson and his friends. They wrote of their pain to a D.C. Superior Court judge, and yesterday the judge sent Thompson to prison for 127 years.
"It has affected me even when just walking, because I get short-winded," wrote Ahmad Vaughan, a 15-year-old random victim when he was shot five times on June 17, 1998. "I seem to stay nervous. It is really bad because you don't know what happened, but you remember that day exactly."
It was a day when Thompson and his friends set out to retaliate for the latest affront in a gang war. They armed themselves with the assault rifle, a 9mm pistol and a sawed-off shotgun. They stole a Virginia taxi and piled in.
The toughs drove to Congress Street and Savannah Place SE, but couldn't find the rivals they intended to attack. They did see eight or nine youths standing together, however, so they shot at them instead. Then they roared away in the taxi.
Three attackers pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Thompson, now 18, was convicted of four counts of assault with intent to kill. Under current guidelines, he would need to live past his 125th birthday to be eligible for parole.
Avery Blue, shot once, wrote to Judge Stephen G. Milliken that he gets "jumpy" every time he hears a loud noise and "frustrated every time I hear about another person getting shot or killed."
"I could not find a job that would take a person with a bullet in his arm because they thought I was a gang member just because I got shot," Blue, now 21, wrote. "I feel the maximum is not enough punishment for the crime."
Deborah A. Vaughan, mother to Ahmad and aunt to another teenage victim, spoke of the wounds and called the youths "casualties of a war they did not partake in."
She described a conversation between two of the targeted friends as the bullets flew.
One youth: "Lie still. Pretend that you're dead. Maybe they will stop shooting at us."
The other: "I am lying still. But they're still shooting at us."