Three men were charged yesterday with first-degree murder in the slaying of an Iraq war veteran early Sunday near a Northwest Washington nightclub.

They are accused of fatally shooting Army Sgt. Antrevyn Mason-Black, 24, as he sat in the driver's seat of his silver Mazda about 3 a.m. in the Shaw neighborhood. A 23-year-old man who was with Mason-Black was also shot and remained hospitalized yesterday in critical but stable condition.

The three suspects -- Davon Williams, 26, Raymond Brown, 24, and Devon Robinson, 29 -- were arrested just minutes after the shooting as they tried to drive to Southeast Washington, police said. All were ordered jailed without bond after a hearing in D.C. Superior Court.

Relatives described Mason-Black as an ambitious and good-natured young man who had served a year as a military police officer in Iraq. After returning home, he was stationed at Fort Belvoir, the relatives said.

His mother, Angel Mason-Callaway, and her husband, Lawrence Callaway, said they were devastated by the loss. They have three young children, ages 10 through 13.

"It's ironic," Mason-Callaway said. "He could survive Iraq but not the mean streets of Washington, D.C. Something needs to be done about the violence. . . . They have to get a handle on the situation. This is just one of the many, our son."

Authorities said Mason-Black and his friend left a nightspot, Kili's Kafe and Lounge, early Sunday and approached a group of women in the 1800 block of Eighth Street NW. The pair struck up a conversation with the women, police said.

Several men then told Mason-Black and his friend not to talk to the women, police said.

Mason-Black and his friend replied that they did not want any trouble and got into their car, police said. At least three guns were fired at the Mazda, police said. Mason-Black was struck in the spinal cord and died almost instantly; his friend was wounded in the neck and struggled out of the car. Police recovered 21 shell casings at the scene.

Officers on patrol saw a Buick fleeing the area. On a hunch that the men might try to drive to Southeast on Interstate 395, other officers began watching traffic heading into the Third Street Tunnel.

They spotted a Buick and pulled it over near the tunnel entrance. They took the Buick's occupants -- identified as Williams, Brown and Robinson -- into custody, police said. All three men are from Southeast.

Police said officers found a .45-caliber handgun inside the car. The weapon was forensically linked to shell casings recovered at the crime scene, police said.

Police believe two 9mm handguns were used in the shooting, according to charging documents filed in Superior Court yesterday. Police officials said they were searching for those weapons.

Calling the shooting "another example of stupid, senseless violence," Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said detectives would forward their investigative findings to the city's alcohol board.

Ramsey said he didn't temporarily shutter Kili's Kafe -- an action he can take under D.C. law -- because there was no threat of retaliation. He also said police did not know whether the violence was linked to anything that occurred inside the club, in the 2000 block of Eighth Street NW.

A neighborhood association and D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents the area, are protesting the renewal of the club's liquor license because of noise, petty crime and other nuisances they link to the club. "There are spillover effects of this nightclub into the neighborhood," Graham said.

Graham said he and the neighborhood group are planning to meet next week with the owners of the club to discuss a voluntary agreement to fix the problems.

Messages left on the club's answering machine were not returned yesterday.

Relatives said they had seen Mason-Black a few hours before he was slain, at a family cookout in Maryland. A photo taken that night shows a smiling Mason-Black leaning against his mother.

"He was not just a good boy," his mother said. "When you are talking about a child that made it to 24, has never been in any trouble, was a member of the military police. . . . Iraqi veteran. He was doing everything we taught him to do. He was making us proud."

Mason-Black was born in Washington and raised in its Maryland suburbs, family members said.

He graduated in 1999 from Surrattsville High School, where he was a member of the varsity wrestling team and participated in the school's theatrical productions, including playing Prince Charming in one show.

Mason-Black was in the school's JROTC program and joined the Army after graduation.

He was sent to the Middle East in March 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq. He spent time in Iraq and Kuwait before returning home in March of last year.

Staff writer Nia-Malika Henderson and staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

Angel Mason-Callaway, left, and husband Lawrence Callaway are comforted by Gloria Okram after the death of Antrevyn Mason-Black.