A 22-year-old Jamaican man being sought by police in an execution-style shooting may have killed his child's mother and another woman while the child and three other toddlers watched in a Northwest apartment Saturday night, D.C. police said yesterday.

Last night, police were searching for Marlin Chin, whom they described as armed and extremely dangerous. Police said they believe that Chin killed both women and wounded two others with automatic or semiautomatic weapons while three other men watched. Saturday night, police found the crying children crawling over the women's bodies.

Behind the brutal slayings lie a mix of motives that may include drugs, money and romance gone sour, police said yesterday. The four men apparently demanded money from the women in the apartment at 1436 Meridian Place NW, where police also discovered the quantity and kind of drug paraphernalia associated with drug dealing, officials said.

Chin had a romantic relationship with one of the women who "might" have had his baby, Capt. William O. Ritchie, commander of the homicide squad, said yesterday at a news conference at which officials showed a snapshot of Chin but released few new details on the Saturday night shootings.

Social workers from the D.C. Department of Human Services have placed the children, who police say range in age from 15 months to 2 1/2 years, in more than one foster home. Psychiatrists said yesterday the long-term effect of the shootings on the children will depend, in large part, on the quality of care they receive now.

Police said they have been unable to confirm the identities of the women or their relationships to each other and to the children -- three girls and one boy -- because of an array of identification documents found in the apartment. The documents included numerous birth certificates for adults and several Jamaican passports, police sources said.

"First, all the victims are believed to be Jamaican natives or nationals. The suspect is believed to be of Jamaican descent as are the three other suspects," Ritchie said, adding that "a small segment of the Jamaican community is involved in violent drug activity . . . whether a pattern exists remains to be seen."

Yesterday at police headquarters three women said that they were aunts of two of the women who were sisters. The women, who said they were from New York and declined to give their names, identified one of the dead women as Shardene Britt, 21. They said that her sister, Christine Brown, was wounded. The name on the mailbox at the apartment building is "Brown."

The Meridian Place slayings were the second multiple killings of Jamaicans in less than a month by what police believe are other Jamaicans in the Washington area. On Jan. 22, four men and a woman were shot to death in a Landover apartment. Prince George's County police are seeking three Jamaican men from New York in connection with those slayings, which they described as drug-related.

Ritchie said yesterday that "there is no known association" between the Landover slayings and those at Meridian Place, which he said had "domestic overtones."

In both cases, a woman survived, ran to neighbors apartments to get help and has cooperated with police. Both women who survived Saturday's shootings are under police protection at area hospitals.

The children were in good condition and appeared to have been well-fed when they were taken into custody, said Charles Seigel, spokesman for the Department of Human Services.

Psychiatrists said yesterday that the trauma of such a nightmarish occurrence in the children's lives could have serious long-term effects on their emotional and mental development, or none at all, depending on their ages, the quality of the care they receive now, whether they remember what happened and whether their mothers were killed.

A child in the age range of those who witnessed the shootings is old enough to recognize the absence of his or her mother, said Dr. Robert Keisling, director of the city's Emergency Psychiatric Response Division, which provides counseling to adults and adolescents in crisis situations.

But such a young child will have a distorted perception about the loss, said Dr. Jon Shaw, chief of the child and adolescent disorders research branch of the National Institute of Mental Health.

"They really don't understand people being dead . . . so often they will experience death and think a parent is abandoning them or leaving them," Shaw said. "And so a child who loses a mother at an early age often does feel abandoned and often feels mother didn't love them and went away."

The trauma of the loss may manifest itself in what Shaw described as an "emotional storm" that can produce behavior disturbances such as extreme agitation, a propensity to have temper tantrums and sleep disturbances such as nightmares.

It is too soon, however, to know what the children's outcomes will be, he said.