D.C. police said they found shell casings at a playground in Northwest Washington where they believe two men fired shots at each other Tuesday morning, sending panicked parents and their children scrambling for coverage.
Police also said they have a surveillance video of the shooting at the park in Columbia Heights, and that the two men believed to be involved are possibly part of rival crews. No arrests have been made.
Law enforcement officials made the announcement at a community meeting Wednesday night, a day after they said they couldn’t confirm that shots had been fired.
But parents who had taken their kids to play at the park described hearing four or five gunshots coming from outside the park and seeing a man holding a gun.
Cmdr. Jacob Kishter, commander of the 3rd Police District, said that some of the shell casings ended up on a slide where children had been playing moments before.
The incident worried those who frequent the busy park at 14th and Girard streets NW. No one was injured, but one parent estimated that 60 people were in the park at the time. Parents reported grabbing the nearest children and running for cover when they heard the shots.
Mark Silva, who had been at the park with his 2-year-old daughter, said he turned around and saw a man, holding what appeared to be a pistol, run into the park and onto the soccer field near the play fountain, where children were cooling off on a hot day. The park is a popular spot for those who live in the area and for nannies, camps, day-care centers and school groups to take children.
At Wednesday’s community meeting, Kishter said that one man — the one parents reported seeing — fired from inside the park toward someone outside it. The man outside the park fired back, shooting toward the play area.
“Yesterday, I think, was just an example of two opposing crew members probably saw each other, recognized each other and had the opportunity to shoot at each other,” Kishter speculated.
He said that the officers who patrol the area recognize “pretty much all crew members” and that he hopes they will be able to identify the shooters when they watch the video.
But many of those at the meeting criticized authorities for not doing more after the shooting to let neighbors and nearby schools know what had happened.
The principal of a preschool said at the meeting that his school was not notified, and a pastor of a nearby church also expressed concern. He mentioned heightened anxiety in light of the fatal shooting in a church in Charleston, S.C., and said, “I’m concerned as a pastor, as a shepherd of a flock here in this community.”
Kishter said that police do not normally post a message on their e-mail group for local residents unless a person is hit by gunfire, but that they realized afterward that they should have done so in this case.
“The incident that happened yesterday is very serious, and we’re taking it very serious,” he said.
Tassos Coulaloglou said he takes his two young daughters to the park, a block away from their home, almost every day.
At Wednesday’s meeting, he said he was disappointed to hear mostly about long-term programs designed to curb violence among youths.
“I haven’t heard too much about what’s going to change,” he said. “What are the short-term things that are going to help make this park area for our kids safer?”
His comments were met with applause from the roughly 40 people who were there.
Another person said, “My 3-year-old plays here. Be very specific: What are you doing?”
Authorities spent most of the meeting describing programs meant to improve public safety, including field trips for at-risk teenagers, outreach to drug abusers and warnings for visitors who might naively leave valuables in their cars.
D.C. Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), organizer of the meeting, tried to reassure residents by talking about her involvement in programs to prevent violence.
“I know that it must have been a fright for everyone who was present, as well as for those who have heard it in the retelling in the day since,” she said of the gunfire.
“I certainly understand we all want this to be a safe place for everyone who comes here — children and adults.”