Above the sofa in Priscilla Daniels’s living room in Southeast Washington there’s a
flower-festooned shrine to her 14-year-old son. He was shot and killed four years ago on a D.C. street.
Now, after the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, Daniels, 46, has to hang another portrait, build another shrine.
This time for her husband. Arthur Daniels, 51, a handyman working for a contractor, happened to be moving and installing furniture in Building 197 on Monday morning. He was shot in an eerily similar way to his teenage son: in the back while running from a gunman.
That morning, Priscilla Daniels kissed her husband of 30 years and teased that they should stay in bed because it was raining.
“Stay home with me,” she told him. “But he said, ‘Bills to pay, I gotta go in.’ ”
They were high school sweethearts. She even named all of their four sons after him. They are known around the neighborhood for their different middle initials. There’s Arthur C. and Arthur L. Arthur A. was the teenager who was killed while walking home from the Metro with friends in February 2009. That same night, police said, the assailant robbed a man and stole a man’s car.
The fourth son, Arthur V., got into trouble with the law. He is serving 271 / 2 years for carjacking an 84-year-old woman while pointing a loaded pistol and demanding the keys to her car, according to D.C. Superior Court records.
“My husband was the man I loved through all the tragedy,” Daniels said, surrounded by family at her home. She wept, grabbing the hand of her daughter-in-law, then hugging her tightly. Then they both cried for what felt like a long time. The only thing for the rest to do was to stare at the floor.
Priscilla Daniels said she slept for only an hour or so Monday night, trying to make sense of the senseless. On Tuesday, she flipped through a pile of photos of Arthur and herself. They loved to go out on the town, shoes shined, hair done and holding each other as though they had just met.
“I can’t believe this is happening again,” Daniels said over and over as she rocked back and forth.
Arthur Daniels was the one who cooked Thanksgiving dinner every year for the entire family, including their five children and nine grandchildren. He spent weekends washing and polishing his white Crown Victoria, which was still at the Navy Yard.
The steady stream of visitors came, as they do when someone dies. They wanted to help, as they always do when they don’t know if they really can. They offered to cook meals, sit with her, answer the telephone.
“You go to the door to offer something, anything,” said Lynnell Humphrey, deputy director of constituent services for D.C. Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7). “But there’s no comfort. Nothing to say at all.”
Humphrey helped the family bury their teenage son. Now he is helping them arrange a funeral for the father.
“This family has been through a lot,” he said. “And gun violence has run, like fire, through it all.”
Arthur Daniels was the family’s breadwinner, and when Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) called Tuesday to offer condolences, he asked if there was life insurance.
“No,” Priscilla Daniels told him, weeping into the phone. She hadn’t thought yet about the bills that her husband — through extra handyman jobs on top of his day job — always managed to pay.
“Well, we are going to send someone out from my office to talk through all of that,” he said. “I am so very sorry.”
Then the Danielses’ only daughter, Iadora, 25, who works at Giant supermarket in Congress Heights, took her mother’s hand. She told her how on Sunday, while she was on a break, her father surprised her with a visit. It was the last time she would see him.
“We hugged and did our little jitterbug, James Brown dance — that’s our thing that we always do,” she told her mother. “Then he handed me $20 and said, ‘So you have some extra for something nice to eat, baby girl.’ ”
The parallels between the deaths of her husband and son are not lost on Priscilla Daniels.
Aaron Alexis, the shooter in Monday’s rampage, had repeated run-ins with his military superiors and the law and was cited at least eight times for misconduct for various offenses, according to documents and Navy officials.
The person who shot her son in 2009 — Ransom Perry Jr. of Northeast — had been arrested nine times before, including as recently as January of that year, on a charge of carrying a pistol without a license. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
Friends say the family was just starting to come to terms with the loss of their youngest child.
“Now we have to go through this all over again,” Daniels said. “When I fall asleep for a few minutes and then wake up, it all comes back to me. And I just can’t breathe.”
Julie Tate contributed to this report.