Joshua Lamar Carter died Sunday night, shot several times in the chest at what police say is a hangout for drug dealers and petty thieves in Prince George's County. When detectives examined his body, they found dice in one of his hands.

He was 14.

Joshua, who was slain near the Addison Road Metro station in Capitol Heights, had not been going to school lately. His mother, Ernestine Carter, said she suspected he was making money by selling drugs.

"How can you explain something like this?" she wondered aloud yesterday, sitting with family members outside her Capitol Heights bungalow, her voice breaking. "How can you explain it when something like this happens to your child?"

She fell silent, rocking in a lawn chair.

A row of teddy bears marked the spot where Joshua died about 11 p.m. in woods behind Teen Challenge, a residential treatment center for troubled young people in the 6900 block of Central Avenue. Police said Joshua was hanging out by a fence with friends about 10:40 p.m. when a car approached, and at least two gunmen opened fire.

"The kids fled in a various directions, and the victim tried to crawl under a fence near the scene," said Cpl. Diane Richardson, a county police spokeswoman. "A suspect came up to him and shot him several times at close range."

In front of Ernestine Carter's home yesterday, Joshua's father, Otis Hatcher, leaned against a car. "He was at the wrong place at the wrong time," Hatcher said. "That's the way life is. It is too short. Kids killing kids, kids making kids. . . ."

He stared into the distance.

Police said Joshua's slaying was the 104th in Prince George's this year.

The shooting remains under investigation, and police declined to comment on a possible motive or suspects. But they said the gunmen might have mistaken Joshua for someone else. "We believe that it is likely that he was not the intended target, but we haven't ruled out other possibilities," Richardson said.

The Teen Challenge employees who found Joshua's body said they thought he had been trying to crawl to the facility for help. When they found him, he was facedown, wearing a black hooded sweat shirt, jeans and sneakers.

"It seemed like he had been shot while he was running, then he tried to climb under the fence," said the Rev. Manuel Baerga, executive director of Teen Challenge.

Friends and relatives of the slain youth and his mother, some who came from as far as South Carolina, gathered in the front yard of Ernestine Carter's home, about a mile from the crime scene, and lamented a young life cut short.

"He was coming in late and leaving early in the morning," said Carter, adding that she last saw her son alive Saturday night. "He wanted to fight all the time. He was trying to stay out. He was just looking for attention."

She said Joshua had been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and was supposed to be on medication. But he stopped taking it "quite a few months" ago because she did not get him a refill, she said.

He had spent time in foster homes and lived with his father in the District before returning to Carter's home recently, she said. She said Joshua also had been confined in a juvenile detention center for vandalizing a newspaper vending machine. She said she suspected that he was selling drugs lately and was involved in car thefts.

She said she blamed herself for not imposing enough discipline on her son. "I guess it's my fault that he's dead," she said tearfully.

Baerga said Joshua's slaying -- at an hour when most children his age are at home asleep or preparing for school the next day -- points to the need for programs to help parents with delinquent youngsters.

"We are trying to help the family to have a [funeral] service because they have no money," Baerga said.

He also said the slaying raised the question: "What can we do with these young people?" He meant idle children who hang out, get in trouble and sometimes die.

"When you call the police, there is nothing they can do," Baerga said. "They say you need to wait until he is a criminal before they can do anything. . . . If there is a crime, they can intervene. If not, there is nothing to help families deal with their kids."

Staff writer Jamie Stockwell contributed to this report.

Teddy bears mark the spot where shooting victim Joshua Lamar Carter died behind the Teen Challenge residential treatment center in Capitol Heights.Joshua Lamar Carter was with friends on Sunday night when a car approached, and gunmen shot him. Ernestine Carter of Capitol Heights said she suspected her son was making money by selling drugs.