Her son, police say, held drugs for neighborhood hustlers. Her brother, police say, claims he tried to counsel the boy to stay away from drugs, but ended up killing him because the boy pulled a gun and shot him.

Eleanora Settles' world has become cruel and confusing.

Along with her grief -- propelled not only by the loss of 12-year-old Mark, but by the haunting memory of his body on her kitchen floor -- now there are questions. Questions that cut deeply, like fault lines, into her large, close-knit family.

Could it be true, what they say about Mark? Is it possible that John Settles really did kill the boy? And for the reasons he allegedly has given?

It is a heavy burden from which Eleanora Settles, 27, tries to retreat. "That's my easiest thing, is to leave it alone. That's how I am." But she cannot escape. To believe the words attributed to John is to accept that Mark was involved in drugs. To believe that Mark did not go astray is to call John's words lies.

"It's my son and my brother. It's not a good feeling."

The tragic twists and turns of the last several weeks seem fantastic, unreal, she says.

Her confusion is shared by people in her neighborhood who knew Mark, including two youths who say they are among the area's drug dealers, who say it is a shame that the dead boy's name has been sullied by what they believe to be untruths.

Maybe, she says, she needs counseling to help deal with "the feeling of me finding my son lying on the floor like that. I can still imagine it."

She no longer sleeps at her Stoddert Terrace apartment. She gathers her other children up each day before she goes to her overnight job as an inserter for The Washington Post and takes them to a friend's house.

"I can't live there. My mother passed {away} in that same house. It's just too much pressure . . . . We are in the same neighborhood every day; we just don't sleep at the house. I just feel funny sleeping there without Mark. Even when we walk together down the street it just seems funny. It's just the three of us," she said of herself and the two children she walks to Mark's old school, Weatherless Elementary, each day. They are Kenya, 10, and Chauncey, 9. Her youngest, John, is 2.

"They miss him. They miss wrestling with him and stuff."

Mark, according to his mother, was a normal 12-year-old beset, she speculates, by growing pains.

It seemed "like it was about that time. He was hitting that age, 12, almost 13. He was, like, biting his fingernails all the time." Because Mark's father is jailed and not around to guide him, she felt Mark needed to talk to a man. "If you don't have nobody to do nothing with, it seems like you out there on your own."

Last fall, she asked a police officer to come by, she said. While the officer spoke to Mark, telling him, among other things, that drugs were no good, Mark "cried a while, because he was scared. He saw that uniform standing up there talking to him . . . . He just wasn't used to something like that," his mother said.

Chauncey Harris, 28, Mark's father, is serving an eight- to 26-year sentence at a minimum-security facility at Lorton Reformatory for assault with intent to kill and armed robbery. Mark visited him five or six days before his death, Harris said.

"We were real close. He came down like once a month to see how I was doing," Harris said during a phone interview from the facility.

"He just talked to me basically about football, plus he let me know he was singing in the choir, how good he was doing in school. He let me know about his brothers and sisters."

Eleanora Settles said she was aware that her brother John used drugs, that sometimes he was high. She never saw drugs in the house, though, or cash that couldn't be accounted for or weapons -- nothing to indicate that Mark had gone astray.

Mark played lots of basketball and football and dreamed of being a sports star someday, she said. He loved music too. Sometimes he would put her stereo speakers in the windows of the apartment and blast them so the whole neighborhood could hear.

Mark was well aware that drugs are bought and sold on their block of 37th Place SE, a cul-de-sac that kids who live there call "the hill," she said. He did not like it.

"He said he wished he could clean all the drugs off the hill," she said. "He was dealing with the police boy's club and he felt they {drug dealers} shouldn't be out there doing it because it wasn't right."

Police, however, say they have been told by neighborhood sources whom they will not reveal or describe that Mark was a holder for street drug dealers.

But two young men who congregated with several others inside a building across the street from the Settles apartment this week said they knew for a fact that Mark was not involved with drugs. The two youths, both 16, said they were cousins. They would not give their names. They said they both sell PCP and crack, a potent form of cocaine. "We deal, but we don't use," the one in a red knit cap said. One of them pulled out a wad of money that included a $100 bill. Mark "never wanted to get involved," the youth said.

Ruby Greenhow, 54, a 28-year resident of the block, sat at her kitchen table, near the stove burners that were helping to warm the apartment, and defended Mark. Her friend, Martha Whichards, 40, who has lived there for 18 years, said, "Everybody up here knows who sells drugs, who uses drugs -- even reefer and liquor -- because it tells on you."

Considering the street activity and crime that he was exposed to, Mark was a good boy, the women said. "I would pat his mother on the back and say, 'Honey, a job well done,' " Whichards said.

"Little Mark," Greenhow sighed. "I haven't slept all night long. When I saw this mess on TV, I tell you, it's a shame before God that that boy is being accused."

The women did not want to talk about John Settles, who was arrested Tuesday and charged with second-degree murder in Mark's death.

A convicted drug dealer with a background of emotional problems, Settles has told police that he was on PCP the day of the Dec. 17 shootings, according to officials. He said he was trying to advise Mark to stay away from drug activity in the area. He claims, according to police, that Mark pulled the gun and shot him. He says he then pulled the gun from Mark's hand and shot back, hitting Mark and the family dog, Old Cyrus, who also died, police say.

But a police affidavit says the bullet wound in John Settles' left thigh appears to be self-inflicted. Thursday, Settles was transferred to D.C. General Hospital so a doctor could, based on a court order, determine the risks involved in removing the bullet. Yesterday, he continued to be held at the D.C. Jail in lieu of $3,000 bond.

Eleanora Settles said that before her brother was arrested, when reports were circulating that he was a suspect in the murder, she wanted to sit down and ask him what he knew.

"I wanted to, but I didn't know how to go about it."

Still, she says, it seems "very impossible" that he would kill his own nephew. "I'm not defending anybody who killed my son, but I don't think he did it," she sighed. "I don't know what to think."