The call came at 12:17 a.m.
Charlene Booker knows because she checked the log on her caller ID when she returned home more than four hours later. But it never occurred to her at the time to look at the clock. When the phone rang, she just lifted the receiver and there was the voice of Ezekiel, or “Zikki,” as she called her 18-year-old son. He was crying. But through the sobs, Charlene Booker heard the words that seem to get spoken in one form or another nearly every other day in the nation’s capital: “Mommie, somebody shot Charlie and he’s dead.”
Screaming. Charlene Booker found herself screaming.
“Where are you?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” said Zikki, as he bawled. Pulling herself together, mother calmed down son.
“I’m here in old town,” he said. Mrs. Booker had no idea where that was.
“Near the townhouses around by McDonald’s,” he explained, referring to the Mickey D’s on South Dakota Avenue NE.
Mrs. Booker doesn’t recall who said what next, but she remembers hanging up the phone, leaving her home with her fiance, Glen Brown, jumping into her car and, with Brown behind the wheel, racing to the nearby area where the townhouses were located.
Charlie, to the best of my knowledge, didn’t make the TV news. He hardly made The Post. On Monday, July 22, we gave you this much on an inside page of the Metro section: “Police found Charles Booker, 19, in the 4100 block of Seventh Street NE, less than a block from Catholic University. Booker, who lived in the 5000 block of 11th Street NW, had been shot in the head. He was pronounced dead at D.C. General Hospital shortly after arrival, police said.”
End of story.
It was actually the 4400 block of Seventh Street NE, but no matter.
When his mother’s car reached Sixth Place NE, only a few minutes from her home, she thought a block party was underway.
“About 100 teenagers were milling around. We were blowing the horn, trying to get through, but they were slow to move.” One boy on a bicycle shouted, “Why are you driving so fast? You’re not going to get any further through this crowd.” They continued inching through the throng, but when they turned onto Seventh Street, the car was forced to stop. Mrs. Booker said there must have been 300 kids on the block.
She got out and started running through the crowd shouting: “Where’s Zikki, where’s Zikki?” Someone said, “He left.”
By that time, Mrs. Booker had reached the yellow police tape that’s used to cordon off a crime scene. She looked over to her right and saw a body face down, arms spread wide, lying in front of a driveway.
A voice in the crowd asked: “Is that your son over there?” From where she was standing, Mrs. Booker said the body appeared much larger than Charlie’s so she answered, “That’s not my son.” She knows now that she was in denial.
She heard another voice say, “There’s a parent here.” A police officer turned to her and asked, “Are you his parent?” She ducked under the police tape to get a better look, but they wouldn’t let her approach the body.
At that moment her cell phone rang. It was Zikki, crying again, and complaining that the police wouldn’t let him get through to reach his brother. Zikki, it turned out, was farther up the street, also held behind police tape. The police were waiting for the arrival of the coroner’s office, Mrs. Booker said.
It was about 12:45 a.m.
The police wouldn’t let kids leave. There was a lot of grumbling and some of the onlookers were getting hysterical.
“Why is he just lying in the street?”
“Why won’t they cover him up?”
A teenage boy who lived on the block went home and returned with a sheet. The police, declaring that the body was part of the crime scene, wouldn’t let them cover Charlie.
And so he stayed that way on Seventh Street NE, face down on the ground.
A mother standing there, eyes fixed on her sprawling son, kept from his side by the police.
Charlie, she said, wasn’t a gang member or hustler. He didn’t hang out in the streets. He was a computer geek who, in an unusual move, went to a house party in the 4300 block of Varnum Place NE on Saturday night, July 20, but decided to leave with his brother, Zikki, because the place was too crowded.
How was Charlie to know that at the moment the two of them reached Zikki’s car, another vehicle would come speeding around the corner with a passenger shooting in the air? Or that Zikki would be able to dive into the car but that Charlie, who in his heart of hearts really didn’t want to be out there anyway, would take a bullet in the head?
Three a.m. He’s still lying there on the ground, his mother looking on.
Four a.m. The coroner’s van arrives. Occupants get out, glance over at Charlie and then confer with police and detectives.
Someone starts snapping pictures of Charlie. Then they turn him over and rummage through his pockets.
A detective -- Mrs. Booker thinks her name was “Susan Blue” -- tells the mother she can’t get closer to see the body.
“What do you mean? I’ve been here for four hours and I can’t see my child?”
Detective Blue says, “Wait, I’ll check.”
The detective comes back after consulting with other officers and tells Mrs. Booker she can go over there, but she must be alone.
Glen Brown, the fiance, speaks up.
“Do you think it’s wise to let her go alone? For goodness sakes, it’s her child!”
Detective Blue says, “Wait, I’ll check.”
The detective returns, and says, “Okay. But only two people are allowed.”
By that time, Charlie is in a body bag.
With Brown at her side, Mrs. Booker looks at her oldest child.
There’s a bullet hole in his forehead. His mouth is partially open with a surprised look on his face.
“Then they took him away,” she said.
The detective handed her a plastic bag containing money -- $8 -- and a cell phone. But the cops took back the phone. They still have it.
The coroner was late arriving, Detective Blue said, because there had been other shootings in the city.
Blue spoke the truth. In a four-hour period over July 21 and 22, eight people were shot in the District, three fatally.
Charlene Booker’s elder son, Charlie, was one of them.