A few hours before he died Tuesday night as he sat on the front steps of a Seat Pleasant apartment building, Craig Saint Jamada, 20, was giddy with triumph. He'd been offered a job as a wall plasterer, his mother said.
"He kept saying: 'I love you, Ma. I love you, Ma,' " Antoinette Jefferson said.
Saint Jamada, who graduated in June from H.D. Woodson Senior High School in Northeast Washington, is Prince George's ninth homicide victim in six days. In the 400 block of Eastern Avenue, where the sound of gunshots is not uncommon and sidewalk tributes to the slain spring up regularly, more than a dozen people gathered yesterday to arrange stuffed animals and candles on the cracked concrete steps.
"RIP Craig," someone scrawled in black marker on a brick wall.
A woman seated near Saint Jamada also was killed. Police said the woman, whose name was not released pending notification of relatives, probably was the target of the shooting. Those who huddled at the scene said that the woman was an unfamiliar face in the neighborhood and that she had spent the better part of the night arguing with someone on her cell phone.
Witnesses told police that the woman was shot first about 11:15 p.m., with bullets striking Saint Jamada, who lived across the street in the District, seconds later. Police said they had neither a motive nor a suspect in the slayings, which brought the year's total to 96, a 12 percent increase over the same period last year.
In response to the surge in violence, police reiterated yesterday that extra officers will be posted along the county's most dangerous streets. Overtime shifts and repositioning of undercover detectives will keep the neighborhoods covered through the late-night hours, they said.
"We're very concerned about the crime," Cpl. Diane Richardson, a police spokeswoman, said. "To have this many homicides in such a short amount of time is unusual."
Richardson said the killings don't appear to be connected, each having its own set of circumstances and possible motives. She said no arrests have been made in any of the recent slayings.
"We have a few leads, but we also need the community's help in solving these crimes," she said, adding that investigators are working "around the clock" to close the cases. "They really want to offer closure to the families."
One block from the site of Tuesday's slayings, which occurred on a stretch of Eastern Avenue marked with liquor stores and boarded-up public housing buildings, is a manicured row of houses and large trees where Saint Jamada lived with his mother. Yesterday, she pointed to photographs of her son that were taken at his graduation, in cap and gown, smiling broadly for the camera.
"He was a good kid," she said, her voice soft. "He was achieving things."
And then she ticked off his attributes and accomplishments.
"He just wanted peace. He went to the International Church of Christ. He went to Sunday school. He played football for the Glenarden Boys and Girls Club," she said.
Jefferson later drove to the building where her son was killed, the same apartments where she said they lived a few years ago. She stood among members of the crowd, who recalled Saint Jamada as "kind" and "funny" and "a friend," and surveyed the memorial to her son. Large teddy bears and small stuffed dogs that bore T-shirts that read, "We miss you, Craig," were placed in front of liquor bottles.
"I know he is with God. God doesn't make mistakes," Jefferson said before turning around and walking back to her gray sedan.