A 6-year-old girl was shot in the stomach as she stood at a Southeast Washington street corner yesterday morning, critically wounded by a stray bullet during a spray of gunfire that also killed a 22-year-old man, police said.
The girl and another child, in matching pink jackets, were walking with a woman at 51st and C streets SE when the gunfire erupted about 50 yards away, police said. It was unclear what started the shooting or how many people were involved, though police said the area is troubled by drug dealers selling crack cocaine and heroin. There were no arrests.
The wounded girl was taken by helicopter to an area hospital, where she was in serious condition last night, police said. The other victim collapsed in a nearby yard and died a short while later. Police said they believe that the man, Jovani Jefferson, was the target of the attack. Jefferson recently was paroled after serving time for car theft and a drug charge.
Yesterday morning, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) touted small reductions in Washington's crime rates during a news conference at the John A. Wilson Building downtown. But several miles away, the violence provided a cold reminder of the District's chronic problems with guns and killings.
The shooting, at 10:15 a.m. in a residential area, was the latest episode in which bystanders were hit by stray bullets. A 5-year-old girl was grazed by a bullet in August, when her father was killed as he sat in front of a house in Columbia Heights. The 20-year-old man was mistakenly targeted in a gang dispute, police said. A Metrobus driver was wounded during a mid-day gang shootout in Mount Pleasant in October. Last month, a 16-year-old student was shot to death outside Anacostia Senior High School as he left an afternoon pep rally.
Tonya Davis, a neighborhood anti-crime activist in Southeast Washington, noted that anyone could have been hit in yesterday's melee. "What can we do about something like that?" Davis said. "Out of the clear blue sky. What can we do?"
The area where the shooting occurred is one of the most visibly blighted in the city, where small houses and apartments alternate with weedy lots and vacant buildings decorated with graffiti such as "RIP Juice" or "RIP Fatts." There are entrenched drug markets throughout the neighborhood, and residents said yesterday that they often see dealers with guns stashed in the wheel wells of parked cars, and see dealers shooting in the air at night.
The shots are not always in the air: One block from yesterday's shooting, a man was shot to death in a car last December. Two blocks away, two transgender teenagers were slain as they sat at a stop sign in August 2002.
When Davis tried to create a neighborhood patrol, she couldn't get volunteers. She said residents were too afraid to participate.
Yesterday's shooting happened on a rainy, cold morning when few people were outside. Police said the shots began at 51st Street and Call Place SE, a half-block from where the wounded girl was with her companions. Police did not release the girl's name because she is a witness. They said that she was with her aunt and that the other child was a relative.
Neighbors said they heard about five shots, followed by a pause, and then two more shots. Then, one neighbor said, she heard the voice of a young girl calling, "Somebody help!" Looking out, neighbors said they saw the wounded girl wobbling on her feet, then lying on the ground.
Police said that, when officers arrived, the wounded girl's companions were near hysterics, with the aunt yelling at bystanders, "You all know who did it!"
The girl was conscious but not crying, police said. She said her stomach hurt.
Jefferson was shot in the lower abdomen at 51st and Call, then ran a block and a half to the 5000 block of C Street, where he lived, police said. He collapsed in a yard, and died about 1 p.m. at Washington Hospital Center.
Jefferson was paroled within the last three weeks. He had served about two years after pleading guilty in D.C. Superior Court to car theft and possession of cocaine.
Before news of the shooting had gotten out, Williams used his weekly news conference to tout his administration's successes over the past year, including what he said were failing crime rates since August. In that month, Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey introduced an initiative to allow local commanders more flexibility to deploy officers during outbreaks of crime.
The mayor noted that year-to-date homicide rates, which were up by more than 25 percent in May, are now down by 7 percent, with 235 killings so far.
"I believe we've made solid progress in public safety," he said.
But the 6th Police District, where yesterday's shooting took place, has had 64 homicides this year -- more killings than some major cities, including Boston and Denver, had all of last year.
One nearby resident described how all the lights in his apartment parking lot had been knocked out and how drug dealers had covered even the interior hallway lights with black plastic trash bags, to hide their deals. He said he often calls police to report shootings, but rarely gets a response.
"Somebody's shooting out there four out of seven days," said the man, who declined to give his name because he said he feared retaliation. He predicted that even yesterday's shooting would not curb the area's violence.
Staff writers Craig Timberg and Neely Tucker and staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.