The scent of white roses, lilies and religious candles hung heavy in the air yesterday, making the limestone lobby of the Columbia Heights apartment building where a fatal shooting unfolded Saturday night smell like an old church.
Friends of 22-year-old Cervando Hernandez stopped to look at the small shrine at 2801 15th St. NW, and some read the printout someone had placed near the candles. It was a Spanish-language news story describing the arrest of a teenager in connection with the shooting: Malcolm Pearsall, 19, who lived around the corner.
"We thought it was going to be someone that lived near the building. He knew the building and knew where to run away," said Marcos Villa, a cousin of Hernandez. "I've seen these things happen before in this building," he said. "They come to rob my other people, other people from my country. It doesn't matter if they are old or young or women."
Hernandez and three friends were hanging out in the lobby of the building about 3 a.m., after returning from a night out. A security camera captured most of the action.
A man in bluejeans and a black T-shirt that said "I do all my own stunts" entered the lobby, pointed a silver-colored revolver and apparently announced a robbery. Three of the men tried to jump him, pummeling him as he shook them off. After none of the three men could get the gun out of the robber's hands, Hernandez tried to wrestle the gun away and was shot in the head during the scuffle. The gun went off again and hit another man in the chest. The men then took the weapon from the gunman, who ran off, according to a court document.
Hernandez was pronounced dead soon after the shooting. The other victim, whose name was being withheld because he is a witness, remains in stable condition at a hospital, police said.
It took detectives less than a day to identify the shooter in the video and get an arrest warrant for Pearsall, who had been arrested April 2 on a charge of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, according to authorities and a court document. Members of a 3rd District squad chased Pearsall in the 1400 block of U Street NW before they arrested him.
It is not uncommon for Spanish-speaking residents to be attacked in Columbia Heights, but their nationality and language is not what attracts robbers, said D.C. police Lt. Jeffrey Parker.
"To say that Spanish speakers are an easier target isn't correct," Parker said. "But this is a transient community," he said, and that can be what robbers are looking for.
Hernandez left his mother and three brothers in a small town in Mexico, near Acapulco, to come to the United States about a year ago.
Hernandez came to the District to work as a plumber. He lived in the building with two of his cousins and worked for the same company as Villa.
Villa said the victims assistance program is helping with arrangements to send his cousin's body back to Mexico for burial.
"It was unfair. My cousin was a friendly guy," Villa said. "He was a good worker."