The bloodshed began that chilly night when Norman Jenkins was fatally shot a block from his home after baby-sitting his young daughter. Then came Army veteran Gregory Foster, slain in his bedroom in a drug-induced argument over $5.
Elexuis Woodland, a hairstylist, was killed next, in a botched robbery. Before sunrise, Carlton Williams, an ex-convict who badly wounded a man in 1993, was found shot to death in a public housing complex.
The slayings late Dec. 1 and early Dec. 2 marked the worst stretch of deadly violence in the District this year. They fit the pattern of most of the city's homicides: All four victims were black, and three were slain east of the Anacostia River in neighborhoods that have been hit hard by crime. Each case had its own unique twist, but the suspected motives are familiar. Street beefs. Drugs. Robberies. Retaliation.
Family members, trying to find meaning in the sudden deaths, said they had a better way to classify the cases: senseless.
"You can get killed for no reason," said Sheila Gray, a cousin of Williams's. "You can get killed by someone having an issue with other people. You just are always prepared for death. You never know when it's going to happen. You just get conditioned to people being killed."
The city has recorded 189 homicides so far this year, about the same as this time last year. The number is the lowest it has been since the mid-1980s, but a look into what happened that recent night shows why the District remains one of the deadliest cities in the nation -- and the consequences that brings.
Thursday, Dec. 1, 11:10 p.m.
Jenkins, 20, recently started classes to get his GED and entered a job-training course, family members said. After a troubled childhood and a pair of recent drug convictions, he was determined to get his life on track. And he had motivation: He wanted to be a better father for his children, 8-month-old Gabriel and 1-year-old Davida, who were living with their mothers, the family said.
"I remember the look on his face when Gabriel was born," said Christina Brooks, 19, the baby's mother. "It was the happiest moment of his life. Many of the guys on the street are hard, tough. But when he wasn't around them, he was sensitive. He was very compassionate."
The night he was killed, Jenkins had been baby-sitting Davida at her mother's apartment. He left about 11 p.m., planning to walk about three blocks to the home he shared with his aunt. What happened next remains sketchy.
Jenkins was at 14th and Chapin streets NW, about a block from home, when someone apparently asked him to remove his ski mask, police said. Jenkins refused. As he walked along a path between two buildings, he was shot.
In most places, the ski mask might seem a practical choice for a night of freezing weather. But perhaps, police said, the men in the neighborhood that night were worried that Jenkins was a masked man about to rob them of their drugs or money.
Investigators are exploring other theories. Jenkins could have been mistaken for someone else, they said. Or the killer might have been after Jenkins's North Face jacket, although it was left behind. Police have no suspects.
Michelle Brown, Jenkins's aunt, was at home and heard the gunshots that killed her nephew.
"It never clicked with me to think that it might be him," Brown said. "He doesn't hang out on the streets. He doesn't hang out on the corner. He was not a drug guy. . . . When I heard the gunshots, I just kept watching TV."
11:45 p.m. Dec. 1
Foster, 55, once drove a Metrobus and worked as a clerk for a federal agency, but most recently he was living off disability and Social Security checks.
Family members said he had struggled with nightmares, stress and other problems since coming home more than 30 years ago from the Army and Vietnam. He spent several years in a mental institution and was treated as an outpatient for psychological problems or drug abuse, the relatives said.
In 2001, he was arrested on drug distribution charges and pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine. Court records show that he had PCP and cocaine in his system at the time of his arrest.
PCP also figured in the argument that led to his death, police said. It took place at Foster's brown-brick home in the 4600 block of Blaine Street NE. Police said a friend, Robert Lee Robinson Jr., demanded $5 that he claimed Foster owed him. Foster pulled out a sword and forced Robinson to leave the house, authorities said.
Robinson, who police said was high on PCP, did not leave quietly, according to investigators. He promised that he would be back, and he returned about 45 minutes later -- with a handgun, police said. He bashed in the front door, walked straight toward Foster's bedroom, and shot him, police said.
Robinson, 42, was arrested the next afternoon at his apartment about six blocks away. Like many of the city's homicide suspects, he had a previous brush with the law. A year earlier, he was charged with robbing a neighbor of five diamond rings, two diamond bracelets and $91. Robinson was released on his own recognizance after his arrest in that case, which is still pending.
"To lose his life like that, over $5, that is ridiculous," said Louise Brent, 87, a cousin who lives a few blocks away. "He was intelligent and not some kind of bad fella. His death shocked me terribly."
1:20 a.m. Dec. 2
Woodland, 24, was born Larry Tolliver. By 19, Larry began taking hormones to live as a woman, eventually getting a name change that took on the surname of a grandfather, Calvin Woodland Sr., a former boxer who for decades worked to help youths in the city. The family name carried weight in the neighborhood. Although Calvin Woodland Sr. died after a stroke in 2000, his work remains alive through the Calvin Woodland Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to ending violence. The family ties offered Elexuis added protection in less-than-accepting Southeast Washington, relatives said.
"It is a rough neighborhood," said Calvin Woodland Jr., Elexuis's uncle. "They are not educated about homosexuality and are very homophobic. . . . But people knew to take up for her, and people kind of didn't outwardly harass her because of my father."
But the name could not shield Woodland from becoming the victim of an attempted robbery. Woodland and a male friend were walking home after getting food from a carryout when a light-blue car pulled next to them in the 2000 block of Savannah Terrace NE.
A gunman got out and demanded money, police said.
But Woodland and the friend didn't have any cash, police said, and the robbery plan went haywire. Woodland was killed, and the friend was wounded. Police said they have no suspects.
"Her favorite words were, 'I love you,' " her uncle said. "She was just the nicest person."
4:35 a.m. Dec. 2
Williams, 32, was accused of trying to kill a man a decade ago -- in the bleachers of a ballpark just a block from where he himself would later be shot and left to die. He pleaded guilty to a firearms charge and was sentenced to prison.
While locked up, Williams earned a college degree and took vocational classes, according to relatives and court records. He also became a devout Muslim and later became known as Musa Abdullah. (Police identify him as Williams in reports about his death.)
After he was released in 1998, he had a hard time getting jobs because of his record, relatives said. He eventually got work at a cleaning service and as a clerk, and he recently was hoping to get a job with a shipping company, they said.
Williams was found shot to death on a grassy patch of dirt between two buildings in the 1200 block of Eaton Road SE. Police said they are looking into a range of possible motives, including the possibility that Williams faced retaliation for an earlier act of violence or because he was thought to be a potential witness in a homicide investigation.
The quick succession of deadly violence prompted D.C. police to declare a crime emergency, giving commanders more leeway in setting schedules to get more officers on the street. For months, D.C. police have been tracking a rise in robberies, and more recently a spike in killings.
But with the exception of the crime emergency and a candlelit vigil for Woodland, there has been little public notice taken of the killings. Police and family members said they are not surprised.
"These killings are not atypical," said Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey. "The problem is people do get desensitized, and that is bad. The community outrage and people seeking out people responsible for it, all of those kinds of things didn't happen. . . . The tragic part of this isn't in the number of people killed, it's in the lack of total outrage directed towards those responsible for the violence."
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.
Gregory Foster was shot after a dispute with a friend over money.
Elexuis Woodland was shot during an attempted robbery.
Retaliation is just one possible motive in Carlton Williams's death.