Francine Lowe made the decision yesterday afternoon that she had been dreading since she got word that Myesha, her 15-year-old daughter, had been shot in the head late Saturday night.

"The machine had her breathing and all that," Lowe said a few hours after telling doctors at Howard University Hospital to take Myesha off life support. "But I saw my baby's brain coming out of her head. I knew she was gone."

Myesha, who recently finished ninth grade at Hine Junior High School in Southeast Washington, was shot while sitting with friends in a car parked near her home in Northeast. The slaying marked the latest in a wave of shootings involving children that has generated community outrage and left District police and public officials scrambling to find a way to halt the violence.

Police said yesterday that Myesha and two other girls were sitting in the car in the 1400 block of F Street NE when a dark-colored vehicle, possibly a Ford Crown Victoria, pulled up about 11:45 p.m. Saturday.

One or two people inside that vehicle fired into the girls' car, missing the other girls but striking Myesha, who was in the back seat, police said. Authorities said that at least 10 shots were fired and that they did not believe Myesha was the intended target.

"My daughter's death is a senseless death. . . . It was probably random," Lowe said.

The mother of another girl in the car, who asked not to be identified because her daughter is a witness, said the girls were talking and dancing on F Street earlier in the evening when a carload of boys stopped by. She said she believes that the same boys came back and fired shots into the car.

The incident comes at a time when the city's overall homicide rate has been falling but the number of fatal shootings of youths has increased. More children have been slain so far this year than in all of 2003.

Yesterday, shocked neighbors gathered to share what they knew about the shooting and comfort each other. They said Myesha lived nearby and regularly visited a friend on the block.

They are "very nice girls," said Cindi Garber, 47, who moved to the neighborhood in December -- "quiet and polite."

"They'd sit outside and just talk," she added, "what I did when I was in high school, hanging out."

Myesha, the third of Francine Lowe's seven children, showed academic promise and was involved in the Upward Bound program at Trinity College in the District. She was scheduled to leave with the group today for a trip to Niagara Falls, her mother said.

In 1997, 7-year-old Myesha -- in braids and a Peter Pan collar -- sat next to Hillary Rodham Clinton as the first lady read to a class at Cleveland Elementary School in Northwest. More recent pictures show a long-haired, smiling beauty. Her mother described her as happy and playful.

"You don't want to know what the last 24 hours have been like," Lowe, 35, said as she stood on the steps outside the family's apartment last night. "My daughter's dead. She's gone."

Lowe, a D.C. sanitation worker, said she had returned home about 2:30 a.m. yesterday after finishing an overtime shift to find that Myesha had not yet come home.

She was told by family members that a detective had called three times but wouldn't say why he was calling.

Lowe called the police, who told her to file a missing persons report. She then starting wandering nearby streets, looking in vain for her daughter. Word finally came via an aunt whose name and number were on the back of an identification card Myesha carried.

" 'Come to Howard now, come to Howard,' " Lowe said she was told. " 'She's not going to make it.' "

By yesterday afternoon, the decision to take Myesha off life support seemed a foregone conclusion. "I'm really going to miss my daughter, because she always said, 'Princess is home,' " Lowe said.

Myesha would often ask for "smooches" before her mother left for work, Lowe said. On Saturday, she said, mother and daughter skipped the ritual, for no real reason. "I wish we hadn't."

Annice Rush, a family friend, spent most of yesterday by Lowe's side. Three weeks ago, Rush's father died of cancer, she said, and Lowe "stuck with me. She's been there with me ever since. . . . I can't say I know what she's going through, losing her daughter."

Lowe said she is trying to remain strong. "I have six other kids besides Myesha," she said. "I have to be strong."

Residents said that the area where Myesha was shot -- a community of brick rowhouses along tree-lined streets -- is normally a place where children ride their bicycles on the sidewalks and neighbors greet each other by name while walking their dogs.

Scott Pearson, 33, who lives a few doors away from where Myesha was shot, said he could not recall another shooting in the four years he has lived there.

Garber, who said the shooting occurred in front of her home, said that shortly before midnight Saturday, she and her husband, Scott, were watching television when they heard a burst of gunfire and the sound of breaking glass. She said they immediately dived to the floor.

While her husband crawled into the kitchen to call police, Cindi Garber moved closer to the front window so she could hear what was happening.

Scott Garber said that after calling police, he went outside and saw the teenager slumped over in the back seat of the car, with neighbors and her hysterical friends nearby.

Cindi Garber said that shell casings were scattered across the street and that a bullet came through a second-story window stairwell of her rowhouse. Police told her that the bullet had ricocheted off the girls' car.

Yesterday, she pointed out the bullet hole in the window and said police told her that two more bullets were lodged in the building's facade.

The shooting is the most recent in a number of cases involving children in the District.

Wednesday night, David McMorris, 16, was killed when two men opened fire on him and three men about a block from the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro station in Northwest.

This month, two best friends -- Antwain Holroyd, 17, and Michael Simms, 16 -- were shot to death while standing with friends in Southeast. In April, Timothy Hamilton, a 15-year-old freshman at Ballou Senior High School, was shot and killed, also in Southeast.

In May, a 12-year-old girl was wounded by a stray bullet while sitting on her front porch in the Petworth neighborhood of Northwest Washington. And an 8-year-old girl, Chelsea Cromartie, was killed earlier that month when she was hit in the head by a stray bullet while watching television at her aunt's home in Northeast.

In recent weeks, residents and civic activists have organized marches, held rallies and appealed to police and city officials to come up with measures to halt the violence.

Last month, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) pledged to offer more summer and after-school programs and work opportunities for youths this year and appealed to the business community to come up with funds and jobs.

Cmdr. Michael L. Anzallo, chief of detectives for the D.C. police, said yesterday that the investigation into Myesha's death was in its early stages. "We ask anybody with information to come forward." Those with information about the shooting should call 202-727-9099 or 202-645-9600.

Meanwhile, Cindi Garber stood outside her home, examining what looked like a palm-size bloodstain on the sidewalk and the shattered glass scattered across her sidewalk and into the street. She wondered whether she should clean it up but said she didn't want to offend neighbors who knew the girl or hinder police by removing evidence, she said. But it was upsetting to look out her window and see the markers of the attack out there, she said.

Finally, Garber brought out a broom and a bottle of bleach to begin work, but she was stopped by a police officer who arrived to inspect the site again.

Staff writer Sewell Chan contributed to this report.

During a visit by Hillary Rodham Clinton to Cleveland Elementary in 1997, Myesha Lowe sat with the first lady, who read to students.Officer William Hyatt examines the scene while resident Cindi Garber waits to clean the area. Garber, who heard the shooting, said a bullet ricocheted off the girls' car and came through a second-story window of her rowhouse. Myesha Lowe, the third of seven children, showed academic promise and was involved in Upward Bound. She was to leave for Niagara Falls with the group today.