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Teens die amid spate of shootings over holiday weekend in District

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) details public safety preparations for the holiday weekend. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)
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The Fourth of July weekend in the District left 19 people struck by gunfire, five of them fatally, raising questions about escalating violence and efforts to quell tensions while trying to keep disputes from turning deadly.

Two teenagers were among the dead — Levoire Simmons, 16, shot early Tuesday in the Parkside-Kenilworth area near the Anacostia Freeway, and Dennis Simms, 17, killed Friday afternoon near a relative’s house in Washington Highlands, at the city’s southern tip.

D.C. police said the violence began Friday afternoon and continued into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, and much of it was concentrated east of the Anacostia River. The fatalities brought the number of homicides to 109 this year, a 14 percent increase over this time in 2021. Killings are rising in the District for the fifth consecutive year; no arrests have been made in this month’s killings.

With gun violence continuing and city leaders struggling to keep the streets safe, juveniles have been hit particularly hard. There have been 11 people younger than 18 killed this year, surpassing the total number of nine juveniles slain in each of the past two years.

In addition to the teens, Timothy Brady, 28, of Laurel, Md., was fatally shot shortly before 10 p.m. on Sunday in the 1600 block of K Street NE. Daquan Hodge, 20, was killed early Monday in the 100 block of Ivanhoe Street SW. And Devin Denny, 32, of no fixed address, was killed early Tuesday inside a residence in the 100 block of Yuma Street SE.

Last week, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) deployed “Safety Go Teams” of civilian mediators including violence interrupters to 19 vulnerable neighborhoods to try to curb shootings over the Fourth of July weekend.

Police initially had indicated that some of the weekend’s shootings occurred in areas covered by those teams, but later updated their information and said none of the violence happened in those locations. The District’s executive assistant police chief, Ashan M. Benedict, said the teams focused on large gatherings, cookouts and block parties, which can become targets, or where arguments can escalate. Benedict said many of the recent shootings were more isolated, such as people individually targeted, or were the result of spontaneous disputes.

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None of the fatal shootings appear related, Benedict said, and all five were in different police patrol areas. Many, he said, “were arguments that escalated into gunfire.” He said one fatal shooting was an attempted robbery “in which the decedent was the aggressor.”

While no violence was reported during the fireworks display on the National Mall, where thousands gathered to celebrate, neighborhoods from Carver-Langston to Shaw, Fairlawn to Congress Heights, and Bellevue to Randle-Highlands were rocked by gunfire over the extended weekend.

The shooting Tuesday that killed Simmons occurred shortly after 1 a.m. in the 700 block of Kenilworth Terrace NE, near where he lived. Efforts to reach relatives on Tuesday were not successful.

Wendell Felder, the advisory neighborhood commissioner for the area, said residents there heard so many fireworks and gunshots overnight Monday that “you couldn’t really tell the difference.”

He said he woke up to news that another teenager had been killed.

“It’s extremely unfortunate,” Felder said. “Residents want safer communities. But there’s been an uptick in crime not just in the District, but all across the country.”

Felder noted the deadly mass shooting at the Fourth of July parade in a Chicago suburb and gunfire that wounded police officers in Philadelphia. Combating crime in the District, he said, “takes an all-hands-on-deck approach from the community, from the government agencies, from the police, to confront these challenges.”

Simms, the teenager killed Friday was shot shortly after 2:30 p.m. in the 800 block of Yuma Street SE, a block from the Ferebee-Hope playground and park.

Relatives gathered in the hours after the shooting outside a relative’s home near where the teenager lay dead under a tent put up by police on a neighbor’s front lawn. Sobs and anger echoed down the block as police investigated and D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) met with relatives and friends to ease tensions. Efforts to reach those relatives were not successful.

City leaders are under intense pressure to reduce violence, and Bowser has announced several initiatives that include a mix of law enforcement and other agencies focusing on crime as a health crisis. But a short-term fix has thus far eluded authorities.

Benedict said that while homicides are up, assaults are down and the pace of robberies and vehicle thefts has slowed. Violent crime is up 9 percent; overall crime is up 1 percent.

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Unlike previous years, District authorities are not launching an annual summer crime initiative, a longtime staple of hot summer months aimed at reducing crime in certain neighborhoods.

Benedict said officials instead will stick with an initiative announced in February called the homicide reduction partnership, concentrating resources in two districts east of the Anacostia that accounted for 62 percent of the city’s homicides in 2021.

The initiative brings together local and federal law enforcement, and according to Benedict has led to a 14 percent decrease in killings in those areas, and an even bigger drop in violent crime. Authorities have also begun a program to concentrate resources in nightlife hubs, such as the H Street corridor and U Street, where 15-year-old Chase Poole was fatally shot during a June 19 cultural festival.

The Bowser administration has faced criticism on her initiatives to fight crime, and a Washington Post poll conducted in February found that more than 7 in 10 residents have given the mayor negative marks on reducing crime.

Benedict said the residual effects of pandemic closures resulting in the “lack of distractions in terms of sports and academics” coupled with easy access to firearms has been a deadly combination.

“I think we’ve got to get back to structured settings,” Benedict said. “There’s no one way to tackle this.” He noted a fatal shooting last month that was the result of road rage.

“Normal arguments are being elevated to violence,” Benedict said. “A traffic dispute escalated into a homicide. We can’t police behavior, but we’re trying to be as visible and proactive as possible.”

Emily Davies and Perry Stein contributed to this report.