Nancy Richards-Akers, a popular romance novelist, was shot twice in the back of the head and killed by her estranged husband on Reservoir Road NW late Saturday as their two young children watched, D.C. police said yesterday.
A short time later, in the grass facing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a man who police believe was Jeremy R. Akers put a shotgun barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger as two U.S. Park Police officers approached. He died instantly.
The shooting outside the home the couple once shared shocked residents in a neighborhood of elegant houses and solid reputations, where violent crime is all but unknown. A police officer said the couple's two elementary-school-age children had been living with their father, a former Marine, and were left behind when he fled after shooting Richards-Akers inside her red Jeep.
Yesterday, as friends gathered to console one another, one neighbor said, "None of the people in the family want to talk. They're absolutely shredded. We're absolutely shredded."
Susan Milloy, principal of Our Lady of Victory Elementary School, visited the Akers children, who are in the fourth grade and fifth grade at the nearby Catholic school. She said that the parents of all 155 students would be alerted and that a grief counselor would be at the school today.
"A very nice family," Milloy said. "We are shocked and saddened. Right now, our focus is helping the children through this and keeping them in our prayers."
The Rev. William Foley, priest at Our Lady of Victory Church, said, "The only thing I can say is they both cared about their kids."
Grim details about the deaths outnumbered public details about what triggered them.
Richards-Akers, 45, wrote 16 historical romance novels, including such titles as "Devil's Wager" and "Miss Wickham's Betrothal." Her latest offering was "So Wild a Kiss," and she painted lively portraits of herself in Internet interviews and on World Wide Web sites that she managed.
"All my fiction is inspired by real life," Richards-Akers wrote. "Nancy will never cease to marvel at the wonder of working at home to spin romantic tales of faraway places, forgotten times, heroic men and courageous, self-aware heroines."
The family moved into the large, shaded house in the 4600 block of Reservoir Road, across the street from the German Embassy, in 1993. Richards-Akers spent long hours writing. Jeremy Akers, a lawyer, also worked at home.
After the marriage soured, police said, Jeremy Akers, 57, stayed in the home with the children while Richards-Akers moved into a nearby apartment on MacArthur Boulevard. The couple, who also had an adult child, split the child-rearing duties, and the children often were seen around the neighborhood with their father.
One neighbor, who said she traded polite greetings with Jeremy Akers scant minutes before the shooting, described him as an intense man who often volunteered his sharply conservative political views.
"He was very vocal about it," said the neighbor, who asked not to be further identified. "He liked to have intense conversations with people. He was the kind of guy who got in your personal space and you had to step back."
Akers also made it known that he kept guns in the house, said the neighbor, who added that he had offered to provide protection for her against crime. She said such protection seemed unnecessary in the quiet community.
Witnesses reported gunshots shortly before 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Police and paramedics who raced to the scene found Richards-Akers slumped inside her Jeep. A paramedic described two wounds in the back of her head from a small-caliber handgun. Attempts to revive her failed.
A neighbor took the two children from the house, police said.
Witnesses said Akers fled in a Mercury Mountaineer sport utility vehicle. About 90 minutes after officers broadcast a lookout call, one of Jeremy Akers's friends called police to say Akers had called him. Police traced Akers's call to a pay telephone near the Lincoln Memorial.
At 12:50 a.m., as Park Police officers neared the dark, wing-shaped Vietnam Veterans Memorial off Constitution Avenue NW, they saw Akers seated on the grass about 50 feet from the monument's etched wall, authorities said. When Akers saw them, D.C. police said, he shot himself.
Akers's Mountaineer was found nearby. Police have not formally identified the body but said Akers's relatives will view the remains today.
"Strange, sad, horrible," one neighbor said of the night's events.
Richards-Akers, a 1971 graduate of Mount Vernon College, said in a recent interview with Amazon.com, an online bookseller, that she wrote speeches for a North Carolina congressman early in her career and later worked at a firm that produced political ads.
"What a detour those years were," Richards-Akers said, "and if it hadn't been for my son asking me, `Mommy, what are you going to be when you grow up?,' I suppose I might still be writing the words to come out of other people's mouths."
Asked about her workdays, she said she started at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday and continued until "later afternoon. Often I start up again in the evening, if I'm on deadline or have this wonderful flow of ideas and energy that won't stop. Same goes for Saturday and Sundays."
Richards-Akers, whose 1997 book "Wild Irish Skies" was named one of the top 10 romance novels of that year by The Washington Post, spoke gratefully of the world she created in her fiction.
"I do love historical romance, and especially as a genre for Irish historicals, because history can be depressing and dreary, dark, cold, dank, unliberated and hopeless," the author said. "But romance allows me to find the happy ending, to modify reality just enough to give it hope."
CAPTION: Romance writer Nancy Richards- Akers in a photo from a Web site.