The first neighbor sprinted when he heard the screams of a woman being slashed on his Northwest Washington street. He jumped on a knife-wielding man, and the two fell to the ground, wrestling furiously in a spreading pool of the victim's blood.
Soon, a second neighbor joined the fight, followed by three more. The assailant kept slipping from their grip and attacking the woman until they overpowered him and held him for police Tuesday night.
"Instead of cowering behind their doors, they responded to her screams for help and went beyond the call of duty," said Diane Groomes, a D.C. police inspector. "Without them, this probably would never have been solved. Without them, he might have killed her."
The victim, a 24-year-old economist, was hospitalized yesterday in serious but stable condition. The assailant, identified by police as Reginald Jones, apparently was high on PCP at the time of the attack, police said. He was treated at a hospital for injuries from the struggle. Detectives were questioning him last night.
The residents' actions came several weeks after an off-duty FBI agent intervened to stop a woman who stabbed two people at a Montgomery County mall. But too often, according to police and community leaders, ordinary people appear indifferent to violence.
"What they did was amazing and a good contrast to other cases, where there were bystanders and no one helped," said D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who represents the area.
Police declined to identify the woman because she is considered a witness. She is scheduled to begin graduate-level courses soon at the London School of Economics, her grandmother said.
"She has bandages on her eye and she can't see," the grandmother said in a telephone interview from her home in Boston. "She's a little bit squeezing her mother's arm, though.
"She is such a smart girl. So beautiful, with long black hair. She speaks Spanish and Ukrainian. She works so hard. She studied in the library all summer so she can take the test and go back to school. I wonder why, why he had to attack such a good girl."
Jones, of Southeast Washington, was charged with assault with intent to kill. Police said that he did not have a record of violent crime. They quoted him as saying that he had taken PCP, a drug often associated with violent outbursts, to celebrate his 21st birthday Tuesday night.
Police said that Jones yelled at the victim, chased her and caught up with her as she tried to get away. He stabbed her eight or nine times at 15th and Corcoran streets NW, police said. The attack took place about 9 p.m. in a neighborhood of brick rowhouses near Dupont and Logan circles.
Two neighbors who rushed to the woman's rescue described what happened on the condition that they not be identified, saying they feared retaliation.
One of the neighbors, a 28-year-old media relations director for a trade association, said he was entering his house when he heard the woman shrieking. He was the first to come to her aid.
"I didn't know what I was getting into," the man said. "We were kicking each other and hitting each other. She had a cut on her face. I kicked him in the jaw, but he didn't flinch. He moved, but it didn't seem to hurt him at all."
Soon the other neighbors rushed in. The media relations director said he tried to shield the woman from the man's blows, but "he kept going after her."
"He kept coming back and kicking me and hitting me to get back to her," the man said.
Another rescuer, a 43-year-old resident whose first name is Ray, said he was making dinner when he heard the commotion. He raced outside and grabbed a metal pole that was on the ground. He smashed the assailant twice in the back but the blows had no effect, Ray said.
"This guy wasn't paying any attention to us," Ray said. "He was focused on the victim."
The woman continued to scream and at one point, Ray said, she began to pray. "Please God," she said, "I don't want to die in this street."
"It was all just a blur," said Ray, who owns a small business. "I was in shock. . . . It was so quick. I just thought, 'If we don't do something right now, this woman is going to die.' "
The woman was conscious but clearly in pain, Ray said. There was so much blood on the ground that Ray's clothing and that of the media relations director were soaked in it, and they turned the clothes over to authorities as evidence, the men said.
After subduing the attacker, Ray spoke quietly to the woman, telling her everything would be all right. "We got the bastard," he told her.
Police soon arrived and put the assailant in handcuffs.
Other residents said they were jarred by such a violent attack in what they called an otherwise quiet neighborhood. The biggest crime problems, they said, usually are petty vandalism, thefts from cars and the occasional mugging.
"That is kind of scary anytime it's random," said Angela Cerkevich, 27. "It's a great neighborhood. It's nice. The neighborhood has a lot of good people, and that is why they jumped in. I think they cared."
Staff writer Nia-Malika Henderson and staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.