When a young Hanafi gunman seeking to capture Mayor Walter E. Washington made a wrong turri on the District Building's fifth floor and blundered into the D.C. City Council offices Wednesday afternoon, the government office became the bloodies of the city's three siezed buildings.
It was the only place where the assailants - one gunman and an accomplice - encountered armed security guards seeking to subdue them or, later, police counter-fire and it was the only one of the three confrontation sites where someone was killed.
Three others were wounded on the fifth floor of the city hall, but all within the first hour of the encounter there.
For the next 36 hours, until all the hostages were released, there was tension but no further violence for the 13 persons taken hostage in the District Building and the 28 others who were trapped in nearby offices.
The incident began shortly before 2:30 p.m. Wednesday when two men parked a Diamond taxicab outside the 14th Street entrance to the building, turned on the flashing emergency lights, and went past the unguarded entrance to the stairs. One man carried a shotgun, the other a machete.
At the top of five flights of stairs the gunmen mistakenly turned left - away from the mayor's office they had come to seize. Inside the double-doored and glass-walled partion separating the complex of City council offices from the hallway, the two men began systematically to gather hostages.
In the reception area just behind the doors, three men from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan, Washington were sitting on a black leatherette couch waiting for a scheduled appointment with Councilman John A. Wilson. The men, a receptionist and an unarmed security guard were quickly herded into the outer office of Council Chairman Sterling Tucker and told to lie face down on the floor.
Inside the office outer office were three tucker secretaries, including LaValle Thomas, 43, who was sitting at her desk in the rear of the room when she noticed a coworker turning toward her with eyes bulging in fear. Then came the three men with their hands hoisted high in the air. Others followed.
Outside at the far end of the hallway, District Building security guards Mack W. Cantrell and James Yancy Jr. huddled beside a desk stationed outside the entrance to Mayor Walter E. Washington's office complex.
Cantrell had come up to the fifth floor in response to urgent calls that men with guns had invaded the building. He shared an elevator with Marion Barry and told the councilmen to be careful because there might be trouble. Cantrell and Yancy started down the hall toward the double doors guarding the Council office complex.
In the hall they passed two reporters - Maurice Williams and Stephen Colter - who were returning from lunch. As the guards approached the partition, the doors swung open and two shotgun blasts followed.
Cantrell, wounded in the face, fell. He had drawn his weapon but had not fired it, according to police. He lay on the floor near the Council chamber doors with blood pouring from his wound.
The blasts mortally wounded Williams, the 24-year-old reporter for WHUR-FM News. Colter ran into a nearby Council meeting room, and, security guard Yancy fled down the stairs.
Barry was hit by a single pellet that may have ricocheted. He fell through the doors of the Council chambers and staggered toward the fireplace.
Inside Tucker's secretaries' office, William Rauschelbaugh, general manager of the Golden Ox Restaurant and a hostage, later said, "One of my first thoughts was, he was shooting us."
Tucker's press secretary, Alan F. Grip, stepped outside of his door when he heard the two shots. "The gunman wheeled around and pumped the shotgun and I thought that was it," Grip recalled yesterday. "But then he turned around and gathered a crowd of people he had assembled in the area and herded them into the room. The other man waved the machete at me and said, 'Get in.' I was a hostage."
In side the hostage room, the number of captives grew to 13, as the angry gunman yelled and threatened their lives in frequently profane language.
The hostages were bound, first with rope brought in by the gunmen and later with masking tape, venetian blind cords and telephone cords sliced from receivers. "Without warning, the police fired," Tucker's secretary, LaValle Thomas recalled, Plaster fell on the carpet as shotgun pellets peppered a back wall in Tucker's office.
"As soon as it started," Grip said, "he (the gunman) just points it (the gun) at the floor and fires one round. (Robert) Pierce was hit. He was lying right next to me." Pierce, who doctors say may be paralyzed from the waist down as a result of his wound, was an Antioch Law School intern working in the office of Council member David A. Clarke.
"We started yelling, stop shooting. I looked and I saw one cop with a (automatic) gun on his shoulder," Grip said.
Helen Keys, another Clarke aide recalled, "The gunman told us you'd better scream for your life." The hostages did and soon the shooting stopped.
Thomas and another hostage said they were certain that police fire had struck Pierce, but this appeared unlikely because surgeon said the shot was fired from "a few feet away."
Grip urged the gunman to allow the wounded man to be released. The gunman agreed and told Pierce to walk out. "I can't Pierce responded. "I'm paralyzed."
Grip suggested the wounded man be taken out to police. A woman volunteered. The masking tape was cut from her feet by one of the Hanafi Muslim abductors using his machete. She began dragging Pierce toward the door. When they reached the doorway, he passed out.
"Okay. One of you broads. Help her," Grip quoted the gunman as saying at that point. Another woman hostage volunteered. The pair dragged Pierce across the glass and plaster-strewn floor of the reception area. Police lifted Pierce over a six-inch high wooden baseboard to safety. The two women ran out.
"That's when I had a tremor of hope that if they let a wounded man out, they might not kill us," Thomas said.
There was no more shooting after that. The bound hostages and their two abductors lay about 25 yards from where police had now set up barricades using long wooden tables. Barry had been evacuated through a window. Cnatrell, bleeding profusely, had been pulled out of a puddle of blood near the elevator door. Williams, whose motionless body had been inaccessible in the hallway during the barrage of shooting, was dead.
The gunfire sent Council aides scurrying through a nearby back office complex warning other staffers of the gunmen. More than two dozen Council employees and Council member Arrington Dixon immediately barricaded themselves in their offices, shoving desks, chairs, tables, bookcases, sofas and anything else heavy in front of the doors.
The closest of these offices was about 10 feet from the area held by the gunman but separated from it by double doors.
The back office complex then became very quiet. Staff members were afraid even to whisper to one another, lest the sound bring gunmen down the hall to claim new hostages - or worse.
Many of the 28 trapped people lay on the floor in their offices, not knowing what had happened and fearing the worst. Gradually, the took stock of themselves, used a system of wall-knocking to communicate and later learned that police had entered the building through a bathroom window on the building's south side. The three policemen moved from room to room, gathering the people and shepherding them to rear area.
By now, the hostages had become more acquainted with their captors - the leader who always carried the shotgun and gave all the orders, and the associate who quickly grew fond of an ornamental Ethiopian scimitar in Tucker's inner office and began regularly slicing the air in front of him.
The tension began to ease, after Thomas served coffee at the leaders' request. Later Thomas, asked to called her daughter," he responded: "My mother, brother and sister were home alone when some gunmen came in and hacked my brother and sister to death and drowned 9-day-old baby and shot my mother in the head. So f - your daughter."
The bloody 1973 slaying of seven Hanafi Muslims in Northern Washington had, in part, precipitated the day's events, the hostages soon learned from questioning the two men. The men were upset because no city officials had sent condolences.
"You know what they wanted? They wanted the mayor," Grip said. "When they came into the office one of them said, 'Damnit, we made the wrong turn.'"
The Muslims also sought Dixon who had once sponsored a Council-passed resolution favorable to the Nation of Islam, which is the religious organization the Hanafis blame for the murder of their family members.
Later the abductors became courteous, several hostages recalled. The hostages were allowed to request food, newspapers and medicine from police located just beyond the Council entrance. These items were thrown through the door. Hands were bound in front, rather than the back, of the body. And almost free movement between the two offices was allowed though in most instances the hands and feet of the hostages remained loosely tied.
A single chair was placed prominently in the middle of the doorway in full view of an estimated 50 policemen huddled behind barricades. A hostage always would have to sit in the chair. Whenever one of the abductors wanted to move across the doorway through the potential line of fire, the hostage was used as a shield. The hostage in the chair was also charged with monitoring the movement of police outside and reporting it to their abductors.
Several hostages said they frequently entertained thoughts of escaping but dropped them for fear it would result in reprisals to others. Thursday night, receptionist Elsie Young took advantage of the fatigue that had overcome the two captors, boltedfrom the room and fell through the then-broken glass partition to freedom.
About two hours after her escape, John Cockrell, executive director of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington and another hostage, was released after telling his captors his heart condition was causing chest pains.
Four hours later, a call came to the captors from Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, who had been directing the city-wide seizures. For the nine remaining hostages, it was a critical moment: Would they be freed or were they about to be killed?
"The associate took off is machete, looked longingly at the scimitar, but it back and sucked his shirt into his pants," Grip said. "The leader put on his machete belt and another sword he was carrying, he put his ammo satchel on, his sweater, his hat and clicked the safety on his gun."
"I thought he was preparing to die and to take us with him," Thomas said, as she watched the ritualistic movement with tense uncertainty. Moments later the two men surrendered, and the hostages and 28 others in the rear of the building were free.
"I'm ambivalent about this because of what he did to Maurice Williams and to Marion Barry," Grip recalled afterwards, "but by the end, I felt very sorry for this guy."