One of the two teenagers found slain early Monday on the Suitland Parkway in Southeast Washington was an escapee from a D.C. juvenile facility, authorities said yesterday.

Marcel Merritt, 16, was supposed to be serving a sentence in the facility but escaped about two months ago, authorities said. Police sources said he was under investigation in connection with several shootings and robberies in his neighborhood in the past two years, including some that occurred since his escape. They said Monday's slayings may have been an act of retaliation or drug-related.

The second victim in Monday's attack also had a troubled past, authorities said. Kevin A. Jackson, 17, had been in custody at a D.C. juvenile facility, they said, but was on an approved "home visit" when he was slain.

Officials declined to say why either youth was in custody, citing privacy rules for juveniles.

The friends, from the same neighborhood in Southeast, were found on the parkway near Alabama Avenue SE about 3:30 a.m. Monday. They had been shot a number of times in the head and body. Police said they believe the bodies had lain in the right lane of the eastbound side of the parkway for no more than a half-hour. No one has been arrested in the case.

D.C. police Capt. C.V. Morris said the motive for the slayings was unclear. "It could be anything -- it could be retaliation; it could be drugs. We truly don't know at this point," he said.

Police are trying to locate a motorist who might have accidentally hit one or both bodies on the parkway, Morris said.

The city has stepped up efforts in recent years to locate and apprehend escapees from juvenile facilities. The District's Youth Services Administration created a unit to crack down on the problem in 2003 amid reports that dozens of juvenile escapees were killed or committed serious crimes while on the run. Officials said the number of juvenile escapees has dropped from 102 in 2003 to 52. At the same time, the number of juveniles in the system has risen from 393 to more than 470.

LaShon Seastrunk, a spokeswoman for the youth services agency, said authorities reached out at least a half-dozen times to Merritt's family through "letters, via telephone and person to person" to track him down while he was on escape status. "It's awful what happened," she said.

Merritt, of the 600 block of Atlantic Street SE, was last enrolled at Dunbar High School in June. Jackson, of the 600 block of Yuma Street SE, was a sophomore at Ballou Senior High School, the D.C. school system said.

A relative of Merritt's declined to comment yesterday.

Wanda Jackson, 40, said her son was trying to straighten out his life while serving a one-year sentence for unauthorized use of a vehicle.

She said that he had two months to go and that he called her often to talk about school, football and college.

"He wanted to graduate on time" from Ballou, she said. "And he talked about wanting to get away from around the neighborhood and do the right thing."

His brother Rico Jackson, 14, said: "He was the best big brother you could have. He bought me stuff. He gave me money. He would give his last."