A Howard University law student was shot to death late Thursday on a Northwest Washington sidewalk, police said.

They said they were uncertain about a motive in the death of Elton Pierre, 24, whose family lives in Maplewood, N.J. He was killed in the 1700 block of Third Street NW.

Pierre, a Howard University graduate, had just completed his second year at Howard's law school.

Pierre was shot in the chest about 11:15 p.m. on a street of two-story, red-brick rowhouses, near Florida Avenue NW. He reportedly was just outside the door of a friend who lived in the block. He was taken to Washington Hospital Center, where he died soon after arrival.

Charles Hasberry Jr., 30, a Howard law student, said Pierre was "just an all-around very good person" who "definitely had a very bright future."

Hasberry said he had been impressed by Pierre's performance in oral arguments: by his delivery, his manner and his assurance.

"He was confident, poised. . . . He never seemed ruffled" but always seemed to take things in stride, Hasberry said.

A law school classmate of Pierre's called his death "definitely a shock." The student, who said she did not wish to be named while the assailant was at large, described Pierre as "a hard worker."

Although he was quiet, she recalled, he impressed her as someone who held firmly to his beliefs.

From the class they took together, she said, she recognized him as someone who was "adamant about civil rights, individual rights issues."

He was personally upbeat and pleasant, she said.

"He always had a smile on his face. [He was] always a positive individual. That's how I want to remember him."

She said that he participated recently in an end-of-term basketball tournament organized by a campus group.

Another person familiar with campus life who also declined to be identified recalled Pierre as a "delightful young man."

Calling the news of his death "very painful," this source struggled to find words to characterize Pierre. To say he was nice was inadequate, the person said.

In some cases, the pressures of academic life affect how students conduct themselves, but that was not the case with Pierre, this person said. "It was always just a pleasure to stop and talk with [him] for a few minutes."

Staff writer Petula Dvorak contributed to this report.