A man who police believe indiscriminately shot at people from an apartment Friday, wounding three adults and a child and spreading fear in the Van Ness area of Northwest Washington, apparently took his own life as tactical officers breached his door.
The man shot himself, according to two individuals familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
The chief described a “sniper-like setup” in a fifth-floor apartment that overlooked the shooting scene outside the Edmund Burke School. After finding the man dead, Contee said at a news conference that authorities are still investigating a motive, but “Our communities are now safe.”
The shooting launched the community into chaos, as students in lockdown were separated from their parents for hours, law enforcement in camouflage and armored vehicles rolled down the streets and police escorted terrified residents — many who were asked to march with their hands up — out of nearby buildings.
The incident shut down one of the busiest avenues in the city, and instead of being filled with people enjoying a spring Friday night, police cars, yellow tape and ambulances stretched across the scene for blocks and blocks.
Police had identified a person of interest in the case as Raymond Spencer, 23, of Fairfax, Va., and said his name emerged on social media posts. Contee wouldn’t identify the person who was found dead, but said the threat was over and said authorities were no longer seeking Spencer.
“It appears this person was shooting randomly at anyone who was out there,” Contee said, recalling the Beltway Sniper attacks in 2002, in which 10 people in the area were killed. “There could have been a lot of damage done, and lives lost.”
Authorities quickly began lifting hours-long lockdowns in the neighborhood of schools and apartments, and reuniting children with their families, and ending an afternoon and night of fear.
Police had searched for the gunman for more than five hours after the first shots were reported about 3:20 p.m. outside an apartment building at Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness Street, which overlooks the school.
Authorities said that a man in his 50s and woman in her 30s were critically hurt, and that a 12-year-old child suffered a minor injury. Another woman had a graze wound but did not go to a hospital.
Contee said he believes a graphic video posted online Friday showing what appears to be the shooting is authentic, though he didn’t know if it was live-streamed or recorded and posted after the incident.
A red target similar to one seen at a shooting range is in the center of the shaky video. The Burke school’s glass walkway covered in posters from its recent financial aid auction, themed after Clue, is visible. The sound of gunfire erupts, and one of the glass panels shatters.
Three people in the video who appear to be wearing backpacks can be seen fleeing toward the building on Connecticut Avenue. One crouches and places their hands over their ears. Below the walkway a man in a yellow vest runs toward a line of cars and moves behind one.
Contee said investigators do not know if the man targeted the school. “We will find out what the motive is,” he said.
Three law enforcement officials with knowledge of the investigation said authorities are examining Internet posts that might be by Spencer, particularly on the 4chan platform, where a user named Raymond Spencer wrote, “Dear God please forgive me” at 3:24 p.m.
The user posted another message at 3:30 p.m.: “They’re in the wrong part of the building right now searching XD.”
A final message was posted at 3:36 p.m.: “Waiting for police to catch up with me.”
Separately, the Edmund Burke School Wikipedia page was revised online Friday with, “A basedman shot at the school on April 22, 2022. The suspect is still at large,” according to the Wikipedia page history showing a change a little after 4 p.m. by Raymond Spencer. Shortly after, the user swapped “basedman” for “gunman” and added, (Hope they catch him soon!) next to the edit, according to Wikipedia page history.
About 5:10 p.m. a green armored vehicle drove northbound on Connecticut Avenue and turned right onto Van Ness Street. A team of about half a dozen personnel — dressed in green camo and carrying semiautomatic rifles — got out, conferred with a police officer and then moved cautiously up Van Ness, walking on the north side of the armored vehicle for cover.
A black armored vehicle followed minutes later, with two men in camo riding in the back. On a rooftop south of the Edmund Burke School, there appeared to be a police sharpshooter team with rifles and a spotter.
Parts of the University of the District of Columbia remained in lockdown at 9 p.m. after heavily armed police in tactical gear and federal agents poured into the area, conducting an extensive search of buildings and streets, as law enforcement officers in helicopters scanned the neighborhood from above. Officers questioned people fleeing and had some hold their hands in the air to make sure they weren’t involved.
Siamak Aalemansour, a dentist, and his wife, Farnoush Jamali, a pediatrician, said they heard three rapid bursts of gunfire of perhaps 20 shots each and saw people hiding under a truck near the Burke school.
They said it appeared that the shooter was firing from a balcony at the AVA Van Ness apartment building on Van Ness Street NW, a building that faces the Burke school.
The couple said that about 15 Burke students streamed out the back of the school building. Siamak Aalemansour said he ran downstairs to open a door for the students as the gunfire continued: two quick spurts, a pause, then more, as he waved people to safety. He said he saw people crouching next to cars with their tires blown out, taking cover.
Eduardo Bugay was in his room in the apartment building when he heard loud noises that he thought were related to construction. He saw people running up the alley near his balcony and heard four blasts of gunfire.
The 21-year-old University of the District of Columbia student said he waited about 30 minutes before law enforcement escorted him out of the apartment building in groups with other residents.
“It’s usually a calm place,” Bugay, who is studying business management, said of his apartment complex. “I’m just trying to process what happened.”
D.C. police said that the location of the incident was in the 2900 block of Van Ness Street, off Connecticut Avenue. Police had urged residents of the Cleveland Park and Van Ness neighborhoods to shelter in place Friday afternoon.
At an evening news conference during which a helicopter whipped overhead and police continued to escort people out of buildings, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said of the victims, “We are praying for their health and well being.”
The Wikipedia page for user Raymond Spencer features an About Me section, with an age of 23 and “I’m an AR-15 aficionado” in the biography.
The page was last edited at 3:58 p.m., according to the Wikipedia page history.
The gunfire comes amid a string of recent mass shootings around the country that has unnerved residents. Shortly after the shooting near Connecticut Avenue, police reported that three men were shot on Kennedy Street in Northwest Washington. The men were all reported to be conscious and breathing as of Friday evening.
Diane Roberts, a freelance broadcast reporter who has lived in Van Ness for 20 years, said she had never seen as many police officers in her neighborhood as she saw Friday.
When she heard a series of pops echo outside her window, she at first thought nothing of it.
“I didn’t even consider gunshots,” she said, adding that she then heard voices outside her window screaming to “move” and “get down.”
She rushed to her window and saw police streaming down the street and helicopters circling above.
Aalemansour said he ran out onto Connecticut Avenue because police were arriving and he tried to direct them. On the street a woman who had been sitting in a black SUV parked at the curb appeared to have been hurt.
“The lady came out, she said, ‘I’m shot! I’m shot!’ There appeared to be blood on her,” Aalemansour said. There was a hole in her clothing, but on closer examination, he said, it appeared that she had been grazed by a bullet or flying glass.
The shootings occurred shortly after the Burke school dismissed students for the day, at 3:15 p.m. Students were streaming out of the building when they heard gunshots, and a couple ran for shelter to a nearby CVS. Others were still in the building.
The University of the District of Columbia near the shooting and the law school had sheltered in place and went on lock down. At least one public elementary and high school were also put on lockdown, along with the west campus of Howard University Law School.
The lockdowns from the shooting extended to the Sidwell Friends School around Tenleytown. Most of the students at the private school had gone home for the day, but spokesman Bill Burger said that there were after-school programs and two athletic events scheduled Friday afternoon.
A spokeswoman for D.C. Public Schools said at least two of its schools — Hearst Elementary and Jackson-Reed High — were on alert, and students playing sports and in after-school care programs had been brought inside to shelter. Both schools are located about a mile away from the site of the shooting.
James Tandaric, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who lives in the area, said he was at work Friday afternoon when his boyfriend, on a walk in the neighborhood, texted him that he had heard gunshots.
He received an email from the apartment building just before 4 p.m., saying they had “been aware of a possible emergency adjacent to the building.”
“We are all in shock currently,” Tandaric said.
By the evening, parents who had been separated from students on lockdown began reuniting with their children.
About 8 p.m., the first of several Metrobuses carrying Edmund Burke students arrived at the Cleveland Park Library to reunite with worried parents.
The bus was standing room only, and the process took a while as police let out only a few at a time and escorted them into the building past a cordon of press and onlookers.
Shelli Avenevoli, 50, a scientist who lives in Silver Spring, said she and her family had been on edge since her ninth grade daughter called with news of the shooting.
She said her daughter — a member of the ultimate frisbee team waiting for a bus on Upton Street — was “frantic” when she called.
“She heard glass shatter, and she and her teammates took off running,” Avenevoli said. “Then they heard what they said were two more rounds — a bunch of shots — as they were running."
The students ran up the street to the first building they could find shelter in. The students stayed there in lockdown for more than three hours.
“You feel pretty helpless at the time,” Avenevoli said. “She begged us not to go down there because she said this shooter’s still out there and she was worried about our safety. But of course we still drove down there.”
Jasmine Hilton, Justin Wm. Moyer, Alice Crites, Razzan Nakhlawi, Justin Jouvenal, Perry Stein, Sarah Cahlan, Martin Weil, Tom Jackman and Ellie Silverman contributed to this report.