Amid the many robberies of cellphones reported lately in the District, one announced Sunday night hit with a thud: Police were looking for a boy “6-7 years of age, 4’0”, 100 lbs., wearing a white shirt and blk shorts,” the department announced on Twitter.
Calls to the department elicited a news release softening the detail that created a media stir — the assailant’s age — saying the victim reported being accosted by a group of youths ages 7 to 14.
As of Monday evening, police said, no suspects were in custody and investigators were still sorting through conflicting details given by less-than-reliable victims who had dubious reasons for being in Northeast Washington.
The question of whether a boy whose age would place him in first grade committed one of the more than 1,900 unarmed robberies reported in the city this year remained unanswered.
Publicly, police say they’re investigating the case, reported Sunday about 6:30 p.m. That investigation, according to authorities involved, includes obtaining video surveillance footage from a McDonald’s restaurant near the busy intersection of Minnesota and Nannie Helen Burroughs avenues.
A brief preliminary police report is generally consistent with the versions the man who says he was robbed and his female companion gave in separate interviews Monday. But authorities are carefully couching their language.
“At this time, we have not been able to verify this allegation,” D.C. police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said in an e-mail, referring to the robbery complaint. The Sunday night news release also calls the statements the man and woman gave police an “allegation.”
Privately, police are more skeptical, saying some initial information provided by the male victim, such as his home address, did not check out, casting doubt on his story.
Still, the idea of a child so young involved in crime is not far-fetched.
“It is very unusual, but not unprecedented, for a child under ten to be arrested and prosecuted,” D.C. Deputy Attorney General Andrew Fois said in a statement.
“A handful of such cases have been brought against children as young as eight for such offenses as kidnapping, serious assaults, sex offenses and stealing a Metro bus,” said Fois, whose office handles criminal cases involving juveniles younger than 15.
In an interview with The Washington Post, the woman said she lives in Northern Virginia and the man lives in a drug rehabilitation halfway house in Dumfries. She said they came with another friend to Northeast Washington to meet up with a heroin dealer; the man said they had come to the area to buy tires for his car. Police say they think the woman’s account is accurate.
The woman said she, her companion and another man drove from Virginia into the District and planned to spend the night in a motel room. As the woman and her friend stopped at the McDonald’s, she said, the other man went to a nearby gas station.
The Post generally does not identify victims of crime.
Inside the restaurant, the woman said, the young boy — “he couldn’t have been older than 6 or 7” — approached her at the counter and said he was hungry. She said she offered him a chicken sandwich, even trying to hand it to him, but he declined.
He followed her outside and stood over her as she sat on the curb, the woman said, making inappropriate gestures and grabs, ignoring her as she repeatedly told him no and swatted his hands away.
“He wouldn’t go away,” the woman said. “He just stood there.”
The woman said the boy’s friend, who she described as about 10 and wearing a yellow shirt, came over and stood next to her male friend, who was seated next to her. A third, older boy stood nearby, she said.
The youngest boy “was getting ready to snatch my phone,” the woman said, adding that she threw it into her purse and again offered him food — this time, a double cheeseburger. She said the boy again declined and turned to her companion, grabbing for his $300 Android.
The woman said that her companion said, “I will call the police right now,” and that he stood up, dialed 911 and then put the phone to his ear. “And the little boy snatched it out of his hands and ran down the street,” she said.
In a separate interview, the man said the boy backed off when he saw the numbers 911 flash on the screen, and the man closed his phone without dialing. But the youth quickly returned, grabbed the phone and ran away, he said.
The man said he chased him several blocks to the Minnesota Avenue Metro station but couldn’t keep up. He said he flagged down a passing police car. “It was almost like these kids had this all planned out,” he said.
News organizations — television, radio, print and online — jumped on the story Sunday night and Monday, with the item being reported by organizations as far away as the Daily Mail in London, all directly quoting the D.C. police Twitter announcement.