Like many people, we didn't think the District's crime problem and drug-related murders would ever directly affect us. We believed that if we were blessed enough to keep our kids from using or selling drugs, they would be safe. However, just a few weeks ago we learned that even the innocent aren't safe, when a member of our family was gunned down over a minor traffic dispute. Because the gunman has not been captured, we write this letter to him:

On Friday, July 13, Ronald H. Jones Jr. got up late, then headed for the kitchen to find something to eat. He made the first of many phone calls to see how "the boys" planned to spend the evening.

Although he was looking for a summer job, like most 22-year-olds he was thinking, "What's the rush"? He had just graduated from Norfolk State University and was studying for the law school entrance exam. It was Friday, no time for studying. He had plenty of time.

Ronald H. Jones Jr., affectionately called "Little Ronnie" by our family, did have plenty of time -- until he crossed your path.

Despite warnings about "D.C.'s mean streets" from his father, Little Ronnie and three of his friends left their suburban homes that Friday and headed for Union Station. His father knew about those mean streets firsthand. He had fought his way through the Clifton Terrace apartments in the 14th Street drug corridor, attended Cardoza High School and worked as a D.C. police officer and detective for 20 years. His wife of 23 years, Deedre Jones, grew up near the H Street corridor. They worked hard and eventually fulfilled their dream of buying a beautiful home in the relative safety of the suburbs.

At Little Ronnie's recent graduation from college, Deedre and Ronald held hands and glowed with pride as their young son eloquently spoke at a departmental banquet. He had a future full of opportunities and promise. But what began as an ordinary Friday night with the boys ended tragically when they crossed your path.

The specifics of what happened vary ... your car cut in front of his, he cut in front of you, words were exchanged. But then you pulled your car alongside Little Ronnie's and fired a gun five times. Then you sped off. You didn't look back.

If you had looked back, you would have seen three devastated, frightened young men. You would have seen Little Ronnie slumped over in the front seat, bleeding from two of your bullets. You would have seen his best friend clutching his arm, which one of your bullets pierced.

If you had looked back, you would have seen their tears and heard their screams for help. You would have seen the pain and desperation on their faces as they tried to save Little Ronnie by speeding to the police station two blocks away.

We've tried to understand why you were so angry and sick that you would open fire over a trivial traffic argument. Were you really in that much of a hurry? Were you angry at someone else? Were you high on drugs? We have no answers.

But you should know how much Little Ronnie meant to his family and friends. How special he was, and how much of a void he has left in our lives.

You should know that Little Ronnie was a good kid. He was a former starting quarterback at Woodson Jr. High School and played in the All-Star game at RFK Stadium. He loved politics and was president of his university's Political Science Association. He had worked for Gov. L. Douglas Wilder and Sen. Charles Robb. He wanted to be mayor of the District of Columbia one day.

You should also know that his grandmother had to be admitted to the hospital upon learning of the shooting and couldn't be told for several days of Little Ronnie's death. And that the screams and cries of his mother and little sister still echo through our house.

You killed our Little Ronnie, and you should know that fragments of your bullets pierced our hearts too. But the horror is you probably don't even care.

But know, too, that we will not lie down in our grief and sorrow ... not just yet. Not until you are off the streets so that another family doesn't have to feel such pain.

-- Faith Edwards is the cousin of Ronald H. Jones Jr. The family asks that anyone with information on this case call Crime Solvers at 393-2222.