Donald McKie was shot to death in one of the most public places in the District of Columbia: a sidewalk on Constitution Avenue NW, within sight of the U.S. Capitol and shouting distance of D.C. police headquarters.
But the investigation of his death Oct. 19 has led police to view the area in a much different light: Late on Friday and Saturday nights, streets lined by government buildings are home to a gay cruising scene where more than 20 men sometimes search for sex partners.
Police have not conclusively linked McKie's death to that activity, said Sgt. Brett Parson, head of the D.C. police gay and lesbian liaison unit. But McKie was gay and African American, as are many of the men who frequent the area, and his shooting before 3 a.m. on a Saturday occurred within the hours when the area was most active.
Yesterday, Parson made a public plea for witnesses, including anyone who knows about McKie's life or about what went on that night in the area where he was found. He said police have no suspects.
"At this point the investigation has stalled," Parson said, "and we really need more information."
McKie, 46, was a D.C. native, the third of seven children, relatives said this week. He resided in his mother's basement in the 500 block of 14th Street NE, and at the time of his death, he was a cook at the U.S. Capitol, his family said.
A brother, Maurice McKie of Landover, said that when they were young, Donald, who was called Donnie, was always the first to find a job, as a bag carrier at Safeway or a delivery boy for The Washington Post or the Washington Star.
"My mother would see he had a job, and she would make me get the same job," Maurice McKie said.
According to relatives, Donnie McKie did not graduate from high school, and he became addicted to crack cocaine. The addiction changed him, they said. Once a very clean person, he often looked ragged.
He had numerous short-term jobs and twice was charged with assaulting his longtime partner. In 1997, McKie was sentenced to two years' probation for pouring boiling water on the man while he slept. This year, McKie was charged with pouring a pot of hot grits on the man May 10 -- causing first-degree burns -- during a "verbal dispute," according to court documents. The case was dismissed after McKie's death.
Police declined to say how many times McKie had been shot, but a police report says nine shell casings were found near his body. He was pronounced dead about 3:05 a.m. Oct. 19, shortly after U.S. Capitol Police officers responded to the sound of gunshots and found him on the sidewalk in front of the Labor Department building near Third Street and Constitution Avenue NW, according to a police report.
McKie's mother, Alma Wilson, said that when detectives came to her door before dawn that morning to deliver the horrible news, she did not believe them.
"I said, 'No, you're making a mistake, because he's downstairs,' " Wilson said. Then the detectives began to describe her son. "I went to call Donnie, and I didn't get an answer," she said.
Wilson said other relatives later told her that they had seen Donnie McKie leave the house about 10 or 10:30 that Friday night.
The area near where McKie was found includes the Labor Department building, the Canadian Embassy, police headquarters and the federal and D.C. Superior courthouses. It also has several small parks and plazas, which appear secluded despite their proximity to Judiciary Square and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Parson said it is a well-known spot for cruising and is mentioned on Internet sites.
On its busiest nights, Parson said, the area might attract 25 to 30 people at a time. Parson said that because police patrols are generally run out of the seven district stations, and not out of headquarters, the area does not have an especially heavy police presence at night.
Parson asked that anyone with information about the case call the police Violent Crimes Branch at 202-645-9600, or page him directly at 877-495-5995.
Staff researcher Margaret Smith contributed to this report.