Twanda Douglas approached the makeshift street memorial Wednesday evening on Eastern Avenue for the ninth Prince George's County homicide victim in six days. She placed a white stuffed dog among the mementos.
Douglas, whose right arm sports a tattoo of a tombstone with the letters "RIP," stood among the mourners and sighed.
"It is getting real tired," she said. "It is getting sickening."
Violence is something Douglas knows too well these days. She said she recently lost three relatives, including a brother, to gunfire. On Wednesday, she grieved again, this time for friend Craig Saint Jamada, 20, a recent high school graduate who was shot to death late Tuesday in the 400 block of Eastern Avenue.
Saint Jamada, a D.C. resident who lived across the avenue, was sitting on the front steps of a small apartment building when an unknown assailant fired several shots about 11:15 p.m. Tuesday, striking him in the chest and killing a woman sitting next to him.
Police said the woman, Aminata Toure, 29, of Woodbridge was probably the target of the shooting. Those who gathered at the memorial said that she 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.
The deaths in Prince George's represent a shocking run of bloodshed, even for the region's most crime-troubled suburb. It has been years since county detectives have faced such a murderous surge. In January 1999, five people were killed during a 20-hour stretch. A month later, five more were slain within 24 hours.
Police said the recent killings, which are unsolved, don't appear to be connected, each having its own set of circumstances and possible motives.
Yet common threads do exist: Most of the homicides occurred late at night or early in the morning while it was dark. They happened outside weathered, garden-style apartments sandwiched between liquor stores and run-down commercial strips inside the Capital Beltway, areas where the county's persistent drug trade thrives, police said.
"We're not sure why, but a lot of the homicides occur in the late-night hours," Deputy Chief Jeffrey Cox said. "It's something we're conscious of."
Police said they could not offer reasons for the surge in killings, which has brought the county's total this year to 96 (compared with 88 recorded through last Sept. 3).
Police reiterated that additional officers will be posted along the most dangerous streets. Overtime shifts and repositioning of undercover detectives will keep the neighborhoods covered through the overnight shifts, said Lt. Steve Yuen, a police spokesman.
Maj. Linda Dixon, head of the Criminal Investigation Division, said investigators are working round-the-clock to solve the recent killings, as well as many of the other slayings that have been recorded this year.
"We're working very hard and we're doing everything we can to find the perpetrators," she said.
The string of late-summer slayings began with the death of a 66-year-old hairdresser, who apparently was killed in his College Park townhouse. Mario Leyva Alonso, who owned and operated a salon inside his residence in the 4800 block of Berwyn House Road, was found dead Aug. 26, about 8:15 p.m., by a friend who had not spoken with him in four days. Police said Alonso suffered trauma to the upper body, but they would not elaborate.
Less than 30 hours later, at 2 a.m. Aug. 28, Dante Hawkins was shot to death in the 3000 block of Brightseat Road in Glenarden. Hawkins, 27, died outside his apartment building, which is one of many three-level brick structures in the Glenarden Apartments complex, about two miles from FedEx Field. Later that morning, at 6:30, Omar Brasher, 28, was found stabbed to death in a hallway at the Penn-Mar Apartments in the 3700 block of Donnell Drive in Forestville.
At 12:10 a.m. Aug. 29, Sterling Nelson, 23, was found shot to death in the 6100 block of Livingston Road in Oxon Hill, a commercial and residential stretch of highway at the edge of Interstate 495. Nelson was an Oxon Hill High School graduate and former Army communications specialist who served two tours in the Balkans, his mother said.
About three hours later, two men were shot several times inside a vehicle. They crashed into a Holiday Inn in the 10000 block of Baltimore Avenue in College Park. Jerome Jenkins, 26, of the 3400 block of Springdale Avenue in Forestville, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Jenkins's friend, whose name was withheld because he is a witness, was taken to a hospital in critical condition.
At 12:15 a.m. Monday, George M. Washington, 16, was shot to death as he sat with a group of friends on the front steps of an apartment building in the 6300 block of Hil Mar Drive in Forestville. Washington, of Southeast, was shot several times in the upper body.
At 11:15 that night, Jeffrey T. Jones Jr., of the 1100 block of Elfin Avenue in Capitol Heights, was shot to death in the 6500 block of Insey Street in Forestville. Police said Jones was with three friends when a group of men walked up, announced a robbery and fired shots. Bullets grazed two of Jones's friends.
"This is something that concerns all of us," said County Council member Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Bowie), who chairs the council's public safety committee. "I believe this all comes back to a staffing shortage. There is not enough manpower to be proactive and to engage in the police work that would deter these homicides."
Percy Alston, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, also cited manpower issues. He said such concentrated outbreaks of violence can strain a police department, placing a particularly heavy burden on detectives. While working on one case, he said, detectives are called to another.
That was the situation last week for the Prince George's police department's 17 homicide investigators.
Forty-eight hours after Jones was shot to death, two detectives were dispatched to the double slaying on Eastern Avenue.
Those killings -- and news of the other seven -- left many residents on that block numb, they said.
"Life ain't getting no better," said Alvin White, 28, a friend of Saint Jamada's, who said that his 23-year-old brother was gunned down in November in Southeast. "It's war out here in these streets. It's hell out here."
As White recalled Saint Jamada -- "he was such a people person" -- relatives and neighbors ambled toward the cracked concrete steps that had become a tribute to the H.D. Woodson Senior High School graduate. They left stuffed animals, empty liquor bottles and tall, fat candles, pausing for a moment near the brick wall on which a scrawled print read, "RIP Craig."
Staff writer Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.