Two people died yesterday after a shooting late Friday night in Columbia Heights that left three others wounded and police searching for suspects and a motive.

The gunfire occurred shortly before midnight behind garden apartments near 13th Street and Columbia Road NW, D.C. police said.

"A guy just walks up and starts shooting," said Cmdr. Larry McCoy, who heads the 3rd Police District. "There were a lot of rounds fired."

Sgt. Joseph Gentile said investigators believe two men walked up and at least one started to fire a weapon. Police immediately converged on the area, Gentile said, and were able to obtain accounts from witnesses.

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents the area, said neighbors reported that as many as 30 squad cars responded and that such fast police work generated important leads.

"It's a horrible tragedy for us, but I'm pleased that we had such solid presence and response," Graham said. "I think it's really going to make a difference."

Joshua Gregory, 21, of the 1200 block of Sims Place NE was pronounced dead at Howard University Hospital after suffering gunshot wounds to his body, Gentile said. Anthony Blount, 24, of the 100 block of Florida Avenue NW suffered apparent head wounds, Gentile said, and was pronounced dead at Washington Hospital Center.

Three other people were taken to hospitals, Gentile said.

A 24-year-old man was treated for a graze wound to his hand. A 21-year-old man remained hospitalized in stable condition with wounds to his body, and a 22-year-old was being treated for bullet wounds to the leg, police said.

The shooting was near a building where a baby died in an apartment fire in September. The family had been using a candle because the electricity had been turned off by the power company.

At the scene of the violence yesterday, glass windows were broken and bullet holes marred doors.

Gentile urged anyone with information to call police at 202-727-9099. D.C. police offer rewards of as much as $25,000 for information leading to arrests and convictions in homicide cases.