The shooting that binds them wounded one young son for life and left the other in prison for a quarter of a century.

Linda Jones and Gillian Bates, mothers of the 16-year-old shooter and the 11-year-old victim in the burst of gunfire at the National Zoo in April 2000, eyed each other warily in D.C. Superior Court, where Antoine Jones pleaded guilty to shooting Harris Bates in the head. The women were in parallel worlds of anger and hurt.

That Easter Monday, on a traditional African American family day at the zoo, Antoine Jones got into a fight with some other youths, pulled a 9mm pistol and fired into a crowd of children and parents.

All seven children who were shot that day survived, but the bloodletting at a family-oriented tradition in the nation's capital seemed to say something about the country's descent into violence, about the dangers posed to children by their peers.

Three years gone now.

Harris "Pappy" Bates, 14, is permanently disabled, unable to remember basic things, learn properly or play outside with his old friends.

Antoine Jones, 19, is in a federal prison in Tennessee, looking at two decades of time.

And their mothers are building the unlikeliest of friendships.

"I think it's a good friendship, parent to parent, mother to mother," said Linda Jones, who initiated the relationship with a tentative phone call to Gillian Bates last year. "She's been very supportive. She's a very spiritual person, very strong. I ask about her son, Pappy, how she's doing, and she inquires about my family as well. It's just girl talk, really, general conversation."

Gillian Bates on Linda Jones:

"I had already read a lot about what she was going through when she called. I really sort of felt for her. She's a very sweet person. She asked me to forgive her son. I said I forgave him a long time ago. I was very angry at the beginning. I wanted him to stay in jail forever. But you can't live with that sort of anger. It eats at you. Not everybody in my family feels this way, I know. But I've prayed for him. For her."

The relationship is built on difficult life experiences, of sharing different pain from the same brutality. There is no talk or expectation of happily-ever-after endings, because both women have lived long enough to know that fairy tales are only things they once read to their little boys.

Today, in a special ceremony at Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington, the two D.C. women plan to accept an award from the Alliance of Concerned Men, a nonprofit community development agency. The honor recognizes the symbolism their budding friendship carries in a city where shootings and retaliation form a wearing cycle of violence.

There's no monetary reward, only a plaque and kind words from people who understand how rare their efforts are.

"These mothers stepping up to the plate and bonding these communities together -- it's extraordinary, a healing peace for the entire city," said Tyrone Parker, executive director of the alliance, who lost a 19-year-old son to street violence several years ago. "It's about redemption; it's about shared concern. It's one of the best things I've ever heard."

Bob Kinzer, a senior financial management analyst at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. who works with a group of police officers assisting the Bates family, says the friendship with Jones is in keeping with Bates's character.

"There's a lot of depth with her," Kinzer said. "Every time I've been around her, she's been positive, upbeat, with nothing but a smile. She's going through some very difficult times, but she just acts like every day is a walk in the park of life."

Life has not been easy for either woman since the shooting.

Bates was laid off in November, with almost no notice and less written explanation, she said, from her $23,500-a-year job as a data entry employee in the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue. She said she was let go because she had taken so much time off to care for her children. Office spokeswoman Virginia Daisley declined to comment, citing job privacy rules.

In any event, Bates was left jobless, without insurance for her wounded son, and dependent on welfare.

Harris requires much attention because of the lasting injury of the bullet that once was lodged in his skull. He has persistent headaches and dangerous blood clots in his legs and must attend a special school in Baltimore. The fact that he is alive at all is a "miracle," doctors have said.

Bates's daughter Shantay, now 19, was with Harris when he was shot. She has developed ulcers and emotional difficulties in the shooting's aftermath, a lingering sense that she somehow should have been able to protect her little brother.

There are days when Bates has to take each child to a different doctor.

She recently found insurance, Medicaid coverage that comes from Harris's father, but she remains unemployed.

Jones, who works for the city government, said she came under withering community criticism for raising the teenager who pulled the trigger that day. She is the former wife of a violent drug dealer, a man serving life in prison. Her son, incarcerated in a different federal prison, will not be released for at least two decades.

Both women cling to a hard-won nugget of hope, a refusal to give up on their sons, and that shared purpose lends their conversations an uncommon purpose and meaning.

At Antoine Jones's court appearances in 2000 and 2001, they saw each other across the aisle but kept their distance. Emotions were high, there were plenty of angry family members about, and the two camps avoided each other in the hallways.

The mothers began to feel a spot of sympathy for each other then but did not show it.

Jones's former husband, and Antoine's father, is James Antonio Jones. He was convicted in 1989 of being an enforcer for Rayful Edmond III, the District's king of cocaine in the late 1980s.

Antoine was 5 when his father was sent away. He began to be a handful for Linda Jones and her parents to raise, and he got in trouble often at school.

The shooting at the zoo ended all that.

Antoine, then a student at Spingarn High School, was part of a group of youths from the Trinidad neighborhood who got into a fight with a group from the Mayfair neighborhood. Both groups were getting rowdy as the day ended. Antoine left the zoo's entrance with his friends and walked across Connecticut Avenue NW in rush-hour traffic.

He then turned, pulled out his pistol and blasted away.

The worst stray shot hit Harris Bates in the back of the head.

In the hearings that led to Antoine's guilty plea and a 25-year sentence, Gillian Bates learned about Antoine's father, and she was both angry and fearful.

But she also learned that Linda Jones and her parents had worked very hard to provide Antoine with a good, solid home. It surprised Superior Court Judge Noel A. Kramer to learn that the Jones household had been shielded from the father's criminal activities.

"I had heard about your father, and I had expected to find a hardened kid. I don't believe that's who you are," she told Antoine from the bench. "You have a decent family, and your mother worked hard to raise you the right way. You know you have broken her heart. Your grandfather died with a broken heart. . . . Your godsister asked you not to pull your gun out that day, and you told her to leave you alone and go home."

That affected Gillian Bates.

"I looked over and saw her sitting there, crying, and I really felt for her," Bates recalled this week.

Linda Jones, sneaking glances of her own in the courtroom, saw Bates's "warmth and stature" and desperately wanted to apologize. Two years later, she made that first, hesitant phone call.

The women did not meet until this week.

Gillian Bates drove to Jones's office, double-parked and ran to pick up something that Jones had for her.

It was a letter, addressed to Bates, that Antoine had written from prison. He sent it to his mother for delivery, with a note to her in the top right corner: "Type this for me please? Love you mom!!"

In neat penmanship, with imperfect spelling and grammar, he began the letter "Dear Mrs. Bates" and then wrote, in part:

"I Antoine Jones am very deeply sorry for the heartache and pain I've put you all through physically, emotionally as well as mentally. Don't a day go by that I don't think about what I've done and how much I regreted it, not because of the time I was sentence, but cause of the pain I've caused. Not only for you all, but my family as well. If I could, I'll give my life away to take back that tragic day."

It went on for a full page, full of apology and regret. He told her he was studying to get his high school equivalency degree. He said he was hoping to work as a chef, painter or barber when he is released. He will be in his mid-forties then.

At the end, he came as close as he could to mentioning pulling the trigger:

"I know that was a drastic moment for both of our families, but by the grace of God hopefully this brings us closer cause I would love for you to visit or even have a phone conversation with you. I think that'll be real nice. May God be with you and your family and again my deepest apologies. Sincerely, Antoine B. Jones."

Three years gone.

Gillian Bates cried.

Linda Jones, left, and Gillian Bates are building an unlikely friendship. Bates's son was shot and left disabled by Jones's son, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence.