Four dozen stuffed animals rest on a patch of grass near a curb. There are teddy bears, dogs and elephants. There's a makeshift cross, a Mickey Mouse cash register, a strip of yellow crime-scene tape.
After nearly three years, visitors still sometimes bring bouquets or yet another teddy bear to honor Jasmine North, 7, and her sister Nikitah Alim, 9, who were beaten to death in a nearby wooded area by an estranged stepfather furious that their mother had left him.
It's a memorial, a shrine even neighborhood children know not to tamper with.
"Every day all of us wake up, it's a reminder. We're not going to let it go," said Jeanette Adams, 38, standing near the memorial in the 4300 block of Barnaby Road SE in Congress Heights.
In recent years, such elaborate memorials -- many with dozens of stuffed animals -- have become common in Southeast Washington, dotting the urban landscape, marking the street deaths of innocent children, adults and suspected dope dealers alike.
Most memorials remain for weeks or months. Ronnie Lee Middleton -- who police suspect was a drug dealer -- and Sabrina Bradley were gunned down last summer inside a Ford Bronco on Congress Place SE in Shipley Terrace. The memorial marking the spot is still there.
Each memorial is "like a holy shrine," said D.C. police officer James K. Johnson. Johnson patrols Congress Heights and surrounding neighborhoods in Southeast Washington. "People come to it. They talk to the post as if they're really talking to a person. I've seen people actually go to it and kneel down and pray. I've seen guys who are drinking beer or wine pour it right on the ground as if they're giving that person a drink."
Most memorials sprout within a day of a death and then grow. They can include flowers, crosses, pictures, balloons and T-shirts.
The objects sit around a tree or telephone pole or in a pile, usually within feet of the deadly event. Sometimes stuffed animals are nailed or taped or tied to a tree.
A young woman named Maya lost her 22-year-old boyfriend last August. He was gunned down on Third Street SE. For a while, she said, she visited the site in the 4300 block every day, bringing toys, fancy balloons and roses. But Maya, 20, who declined to give her last name, said that because her boyfriend was an outsider to the neighborhood, her mementos disappeared.
"They won't watch over it. They won't let us keep anything there," she lamented.
But when the death takes place in a neighborhood where the victim lived or was known, people keep their eyes on the collections. So it is on Barnaby Road.
"That's never going to be removed," Jeanette Adams said. "It's a landmark."
Sherry Molock, an associate professor of psychology at George Washington University, believes the memorials are expressions not only of sorrow but also of a sense of powerlessness.
"I think people feel helpless and hopeless to intervene," she said. "People are trying to make a comment: If they couldn't protect their children in life, they can protect their memory in death."
Similar extensive memorials occasionally pop up in Prince George's County or other sections of the District. But more often, violent deaths outside Southeast are noted with less elaborate displays of flowers, pictures, crosses or candles, or a few stuffed animals -- or by spray-painting victims' names on store walls.
Police in New York, Miami, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston said they seldom see elaborate stuffed-animal memorials. Instead, candles and flowers, photos or a few stuffed toys mark the spots. But police in San Francisco and Seattle said the memorials there are growing.
"I think it's a trend that's been coming slowly, as people see it on the news with [tragedies such as] Princess Diana and Littleton," said Deputy John Urquhart, spokesman for the King County sheriff's office in Seattle.
District officials said that there is no ordinance specifically addressing the memorials, but that they have a responsibility to keep the streets clean. So they face a dilemma: to leave the objects or sweep them away.
"We try to respect it; we don't consider it rubbish," said Dave Fletcher, program management specialist for the D.C. Department of Public Works. "If there's no complaint in the area, we're in no hurry to remove them. We get very few, but when we get one, we have to react."
But before reacting to a complaint, he said, a Public Works employee usually contacts the family or advisory neighborhood commissioner and arranges to give the items to the family or donate them to charities.
Apartment building employees sometimes remove memorials, too, concerned that prospective tenants may be scared off by symbols often associated with neighborhood violence.
Last month, the Shipley Park Apartments on Southern Avenue SE, also in Shipley Terrace, removed dozens of stuffed animals from a tree in front of the complex. The memorial was for Jerry Hicks Jr., 7, who was killed by a car while crossing the street in February.
"People who see something like that, they tend to misperceive what has happened," said Gloria Dunbar, property manager for Borger Management Inc., which operates the apartments. "Generally they think it is a violent crime. I did have one instance where someone said, `They have murders over there. They have all the teddy bears.' "
She said that management notified the father before removing the collection and that he had no objections. But Jerry Hicks Sr., who once worked for the apartment complex, said he was "highly upset" about the removal of the memorial. He said he had hoped to stall the company.
"They could have at least given us six months to a year," Hicks said. His son is buried in Landover, and it is very hard for him to reach the cemetery. "That's like another grave site to us," he said of the memorial, " 'cause we don't have transportation. Every day I come out to that spot. I say my prayer early in the morning, day by day."
Across the street, on the Maryland side of Southern Avenue, a memorial at another tree has eight stuffed animals, some of which belonged to young Jerry. But it doesn't have the same meaning, Hicks said.
"The D.C. tree is where my son got hit," he said.
The other day, his family put a cross on the tree with artificial flowers that spell "Son."
The D.C. tree also had special meaning to D'Angelo Johnson, 9, a close friend of Jerry's. Shortly before the tree was stripped of its memorial, he explained that he liked to stand near it and say: "I miss you, little Jerry. Why did it have to be you?"
"I think about him when I go to sleep," D'Angelo said as cars whizzed by on Southern Avenue. "That was my best friend."
One recent afternoon, a man holding a tall can of Steel Reserve beer looked down at the stuffed-animal memorial in the 1500 block of Congress Place SE where his close friend, Middleton, and Bradley were shot. Pointing to a bottle of Lowenbrau beer nestled among the stuffed animals, some three dozen in all, he said: "There's a whole beer in there. The cap is still on. That's love!"
Was that his friend's brand?
"He wasn't a drinker," the man responded. But the man considered the beer bottle a sign of respect, of affection.
But some see the memorials as eyesores.
"To me it's kind of tacky," said Elijah Davis, who was walking down Barnaby Road, where the two sisters were slain. "After a certain point in time, the animals start to decay."
Then he added: "These are symbols, tokens of the harsh violence that's happened in our neighborhood. It's hurtful to see these symbols."
Yet others say the painful memories are necessary.
"It's a reminder to keep parents on alert," said Oalalee Williams, who manages an apartment building across from the Barnaby memorial. "We all feel guilty. We all feel we could have stopped it."
Estelle Tabron, standing near the memorial, agreed.
"We usually walk the neighborhood, and if it wasn't raining that day, we would have caught" the stepfather who killed the two young sisters. "We would have seen him, and he wouldn't have gotten away with that."
CAPTION: Antwone Brown, 14, at a memorial for his 7-year-old nephew, Jerry Hicks Jr., who was struck by a car nearby.
CAPTION: Estelle Tabron stops by a memorial in her Congress Heights neighborhood for two sisters, ages 7 and 9, slain nearby by their stepfather in 1996.