Prosecutors declined to press charges yesterday against a 19-year-old man who was arrested in the killing of a teenage girl early Saturday in Northwest Washington.

Irvin Johnson was arrested within hours of the shooting of Erica Anderson, 16, in her apartment in the 3500 block of 14th Street NW. Police had hoped to charge him with murder and handgun possession.

But prosecutors said yesterday that they did not have enough evidence to proceed against Johnson, who police had identified as Irving John.

"After a careful analysis of the facts, we have concluded that there is insufficient evidence at this time to go forward against the suspect," Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said in a statement. "The United States Attorney's Office will continue to work with the Metropolitan Police Department to fully and vigorously investigate this case."

Police said that Johnson, Anderson and two other people were in a bedroom when the teenager was shot in the face about 3:30 a.m.

She was rushed to Washington Hospital Center, where she died.

Police said witnesses offered conflicting stories about what happened. Witnesses said that Johnson shot Anderson in the face or that he dropped the gun on a bed and it accidentally discharged, police said.

Last night, Johnson's mother, Stephanie Johnson, said she had heard secondhand that her son "was in the bathroom" when the shooting happened. "I'm overjoyed" that the murder charge won't be pursued, she said.

Despite the inconsistent stories, detectives felt they had enough evidence to charge Johnson in the killing and with illegal possession of a handgun, police said.

Prosecutors, however, felt that another person in the room might be responsible for the shooting and that they could not proceed against Johnson, according to a law enforcement official.

Johnson, of the 1300 block of Meridian Place NW, was not immediately released. At the time of his arrest on the murder charge, he was wanted for skipping a hearing on an unrelated charge.

Anderson, an 11th-grader at Bell Multicultural High School, had a younger brother and an older brother and sister. She excelled in a cosmetology class at school and hoped to work in a salon after graduation, friends said.

Staff writer Allan Lengel contributed to this report.