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Two teens fatally shot in D.C., including one wounded three times before

After the first shooting, a surgeon warned the teen his body couldn’t take another gunshot wound

Babak Sarani, chief of trauma surgery at George Washington University Hospital, hugs Corey Riggins Jr. in 2018 during an event at the hospital to reunite doctors and patients. (Courtesy of Babak Sarani)

Corey Riggins Jr. was 15 years old the first time he was shot in the District four years ago, bullets striking his heart, liver and lung. He went into cardiac arrest three times in surgery at George Washington University Hospital.

After he recovered, the chief trauma surgeon, Babak Sarani, told Riggins his scarred organs could not take being shot a second time. He said he pleaded with the teen to get out of D.C., or whatever situation precipitated his shooting, “so this doesn’t happen to you again.”

Riggins was shot three more times in subsequent years, twice emerging with wounds to his hand and elbow, according to police and his family. The third time, early Sunday, police said, he died where he had been shot, behind a row of residences on Wheeler Road in Southeast Washington, with no chance to reach a hospital.

“It broke my heart,” Sarani said in an interview Monday. “But it was, unfortunately, predictable.”

D.C. wants to save at-risk people. Violence, missteps marred the effort.

Riggins was the 188th person killed in the District this year and was one of two teenagers killed in the city over the Thanksgiving weekend. Jakhi Snider, a 16-year-old sophomore at the Digital Pioneers Academy charter school, was fatally shot late Saturday morning on Morris Road in Southeast, shortly after family said he left his grandmother’s house to walk to a football game.

Snider was one of more than 96 juveniles shot in D.C. so far this year and the 18th person under 18 to die by homicide.

Killings and nonfatal shootings are down overall in D.C. compared with 2021. But almost twice as many youths have been shot compared with the same time last year, and the District has in 11 months surpassed the total number of juveniles killed in each of the past five years.

Mashea M. Ashton, the principal at Digital, described Snider in a letter to parents as a bright student who played football and basketball. She said the youth, known as Khi or Khi Rackz, was a “kind and loyal friend.”

The youth’s cousin, Crystal Collins, 53, said the sprawling family is close, and that Snider liked to dance and make people laugh by making silly comments or poking fun at his three younger siblings. “His mom was his number one fan,” Collins said, noting that tragedy struck the family in July when another cousin, Jaquan Bragg, was fatally shot in Northeast Washington at the age of 27.

Collins said Snider wanted to play football and go to college, and was formulating long-term goals. She said she does not believe Snider was targeted, based on conversations in the neighborhood. D.C. police said Snider was in a group in an alley when he was shot, and police were still investigating whom the shooter might have been targeting.

Snider’s grandmother, Angela Snider, 54, said he had once played for the Woodland Tigers, a youth football team that has lost many of its players to violence. She said he was with her and other relatives for Thanksgiving dinner, feasting on dishes such as chicken and baked macaroni and cheese, eating everything in sight.

Two days later, shortly after 11 a.m., he was dead.

“I just want to know why,” Angela Snider said.

Relatives of Riggins said they also lack answers. Riggins, they said, was a young man who helped his grandparents without fuss or pushback, but couldn’t escape the neighborhoods that invited danger for him and his friends.

Carla Lawson, 54, his mother, said she talked to her son on Thanksgiving but hadn’t seen him in recent days, and she wasn’t in the area when he was first shot in 2018.

Lawson said her son had attended Ballou STAY Opportunity Academy in D.C., taking up woodworking as a vocational study, but did not make it to graduation.

She said that she has three other sons and that none have been victims of violent crime. “Keep praying,” she said, noting Riggins was shot when he was 15, 17, 18 and 19 years old.

Lawson said the city did not offer her family help. Riggins’s father, Corey Riggins Sr., 49, said his son didn’t take advantage of efforts to help him.

“I guess he was scared,” he said, adding that the city needs to do more to persuade even those reluctant to accept help.

“Somebody needs to step up,” he said. “I know they got help out there. But nobody is stepping up.”

D.C. officials said they have many programs to assist crime victims, including one through the police department that can help directly or refer people to outside agencies. The city would not address Riggins’s case specifically and would not say if he was one of the 230 currently listed in the “People of Promise” program, which is designed to focus intense services toward people identified as likely to be a shooting victim or perpetrator. Riggins was not on a list reviewed by The Washington Post in September.

D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III said some victims need help beyond what law enforcement can offer. “There is nothing within the police department toolbox where there is a program we would offer for people who have been shot multiple times,” he said Monday.

The first time Riggins was shot, in May 2018 in Southeast, his grandmother said, she “didn’t think he was going to make it.”

When he arrived by ambulance at George Washington Hospital, Sarani was already working on another trauma victim. He said he had to finish up with that patient before he could help Riggins. Sarani said Riggins “physically died three times” as doctors frantically worked to restart his heart and stop bleeding.

He survived, the doctor said, “only because he was so young, he was able to take that degree of injury … and come back.” But Sarani said he warned his young patient that his body could not take more punishment.

In December 2018, the hospital held a public ceremony to reunite patients with the doctors who had saved them from life-threatening injuries. Riggins was among the attendees and was photographed hugging Sarani, who said he keeps that photo on his phone as a motivator. Riggins did not speak publicly at the ceremony; the doctor said his patient had been too overwhelmed to talk. “There were rivers coming out of his eyes,” Sarani said.

The doctor said hospital staff identified Riggins as someone who needed close monitoring and who was at “extreme risk of being shot again.” He said they reached out to him in a “very aggressive way” to get him help and were joined by D.C. government officials.

But Sarani said the efforts largely failed. The doctor said he tried to persuade Riggins to say with relatives outside D.C., “to get away for a couple of years, get a clean break.” But he said Riggins told him, “I’m just not going to leave.”

Emily Davies, Moriah Balingit, Alice Crites and Monika Mathur contributed to this report.