The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Four killed in separate shootings push D.C. homicide count over 200

The shootings occurred Thursday night and Friday in Northeast, Southeast and Northwest Washington

Cmdr. John Branch of the D.C. police talks to reporters on Thursday after a man was fatally shot on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. D.C. has recorded more than 200 homicides for the second consecutive year. (D.C. police on Twitter)

Four men were killed Thursday night and Friday in separate shootings across the District, pushing the annual homicide count in the city to over 200 for the second consecutive year.

One of the victims was killed outside Busboys and Poets, a restaurant in Anacostia, moments after he had picked up a takeout order and was heading to a ride-hail vehicle, according to police and the establishment’s owner. Authorities said the vehicle’s driver was wounded in the shooting.

The latest slaying occurred Friday night on the southeastern edge of Capitol Hill. A man was killed in the 900 block of 12th Street SE, according to Officer Hugh Carew, a police spokesman.

“This is a problem, this is a public health problem,” said Andy Shallal, the Busboys and Poets owner whose restaurants in the District, Maryland and Virginia are designed as communal gathering places. “And it needs to be addressed as such. It’s not just catching criminals. You can do that until doomsday.”

The fatal shootings brought the number of people killed in D.C. this year to 202, down 11 percent from this time in 2021. But the number still exceeded 200 for the second time in nearly two decades, and spikes in carjackings and shootings involving juveniles have made public safety a continued concern. There were 166 homicides in the District in 2019.

The union representing D.C. police officers blames new laws that restrict police tactics, ease some criminal penalties and downsize the force. Lawmakers counter that they are working to implement alternative justice programs to get at the root causes of crime while de-emphasizing the role of police.

The administration of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is pumping money into street mediation initiatives and a program that focuses intense resources on the most at risk to kill or be killed. At the same time, Bowser is pushing for more police officers and more accountability for the most violent offenders.

Violent crime in the District dropped 7 percent this year compared with last year. In a recent interview, D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III said he plans to “focus on making communities safe all across the District of Columbia.”

“It is a process” Contee said. “It can be frustrating for community members who hear gunshots or have acts of violence happen.”

Until Thursday night, the District had gone without a fatal shooting since Christmas Eve. That period of quiet was broken about 7:14 p.m. when police said Aniekobo Macaulay Umoh, 50, of Brandywine, Md., was shot and killed in the 2700 block of 7th Street NE, in the Edgewood neighborhood, a few blocks north of Rhode Island Avenue.

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

Police said Umoh died at a hospital. No other details were publicly released; a police report lists an additional address for the victim in Northeast Washington. Efforts to reach Umoh’s relatives were not successful on Friday.

Shortly before 2:35 a.m. Friday, police said Jhonatan Guzman Hernandez, 21, of Upper Marlboro, Md., was shot in an alley that runs between the 2400 block of 15th Street NW and University Place, near Meridian Hill Park in Columbia Heights.

The area includes an embassy, apartments and rowhouses. Relatives could not be reached. A police report lists drugs as a possible motive.

The shooting outside Busboys and Poets occurred shortly before 9:30 p.m. Thursday in the 2000 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, one of the main commercial streets running through Anacostia.

Authorities said Mario Leonard, 24, of Temple Hills was pronounced dead at the scene, his body falling near the front door to the offices of the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, a nonprofit social services organization whose offices are above Busboys and Poets.

The collaborative offers programs and help to people affected by a wide variety of challenges, including violence. It also employs credible messengers on the streets and violence interrupters in a D.C. hospital who work directly with shooting victims to mediate conflicts.

Dionne Bussey-Reeder, the executive director, said the building also serves as a safe haven for people trying to escape harm. She said it does not appear that the man who was killed Thursday night was involved in one of the collaborative’s programs, nor was he a client.

She said that the shooting happened as one of her workers was closing down for the night and that she was two blocks away with her granddaughter, close enough to hear the gunshots.

Bussey-Reeder said she plans to convene a community-wide meeting in the coming weeks to address violence, which she believes is linked into increased drug use, including fentanyl, and a proliferation of guns.

Those who are armed, Bussey-Reeder said, “seemingly have no consciousness around their actions. We have got to figure out a different plan. We’re going to pull ourselves together, as we so often do.”

Shallal said he sped to the restaurant when he heard about the shooting. He said the Anacostia location has the least problems among his restaurants, which are located in areas that include the U Street corridor, Columbia, Md., Baltimore and Shirlington, Va.

He said he is “absolutely committed” to Anacostia.

“It is a beautiful community,” he said. “Everybody looks out for each other.”

But Shallal said the city needs to fix the violence problem, noting that shootings like the one on Thursday have “become too routine. It’s become a fact of life, that’s the awful thing.”

He said he supports D.C.’s police chief and efforts to reduce crime, but he urged more investment in initiatives that try to extricate people from poverty and addiction, and that could help the police concentrate more on violent offenders instead of the wide array of social issues they now confront.

“As much as we like to have the police around, they typically show up when [crime] is already done, and draw the chalk lines,” Shallal said. “We have to figure out a way to stop this stuff from happening.”

Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.