Ra’Shauna Brown never heard the bullets coming.
She and her best friend, Brishell Jones, had just polished off a pineapple pizza from Domino’s at Brishell’s house in Southeast Washington the evening of March 30, 2010. Then, still clad in the RIP T-shirtsthey’d worn earlier that day to the funeral of a slain friend, the teenage girls walked a few blocks up South Capitol Street SE to meet up with several friends who had also attended the funeral.
In the first interview she’s given describing one of the District’s worst mass shootings in decades, Brown said she was chatting with her friends and singing along with an Alicia Keys song on her iPod when her left leg suddenly gave out and she fell to the ground. Brown can’t recall hearing any gunshots or even the screech of car tires.
As she lay on the ground, she saw smoke rising from the grass and struggled to make sense of it. It was then that she realized she had been shot in her leg, said Brown, who is expected to testify in the coming days against the five men accused of being involved in the shootings. Brown had been shot twice, in her left knee and in her back.
Brown, then 17, looked down at her feet and saw Brishell, an aspiring chef who had been her closest friend since middle school.
“Brishell. Brishell. Brishell,” Brown remembered calling.
Brishell, 16, who had been shot in her right temple, didn’t answer. Brown called out to another friend, DaVaughn Boyd, 18, lying just a few feet from her. Again, no response. Also lying nearby was the body of William Jones III, 19.
Panicked, Brown reached into her jacket, pulled out her cellphone and called 911. “I don’t know what happened, but I think someone shot at us,” she told the operator.
Then Brown called her mother. “I think I’ve been shot,” she cried.
Finally, Brown tried to call Brishell’s mother, Nardyne Jefferies, but she didn’t pick up.
Brown had been shot with an AK-47 assault-style weapon and a .45-caliber semiautomatic, she would later discover. One bullet struck her left knee and exited her inner thigh. The other bullet struck her back and exited under her left shoulder.
In all, four people were fatally shot that evening and six others, including Brown, were wounded — part of a retaliatory killing spree that had begun nine days earlier with the theft of a gold-colored bracelet at a party on Alabama Avenue.
On Tuesday, five men accused of being involved in that string of shootings are scheduled to go on trial in D.C. Superior Court: Orlando Carter, 22; his brother, Sanquan, 21; Jeffrey D. Best, 23; Robert Bost, 23; and Lamar Williams, 23. Each faces about 90 charges, including multiple counts of first-degree murder, conspiracy, and assault and weapons charges. If convicted, all five could face life in prison.
The case is being heard by Judge Ronna L. Beck. It’s not the first time Beck has presided over a case involving one of the Carter men. In November 2009, Sanquan Carter was charged with armed carjacking and other offenses. As his trial approached, Carter’s attorneys argued that he should be released from the D.C. jail and into a halfway house. Prosecutors repeatedly objected, but on March 19, 2010, Beck ordered Carter released to the halfway house.
Three days later, the killing spree began, police said. The first to die was Jordan Howe, 20, who was gunned down after the Alabama Avenue party. Three others were injured. Prosecutors say that attack eventually led to the South Capitol Street shootings.
It was Howe’s funeral that Brishell and Brown had attended on March 30.
Although they were only 10 months apart in age, Brown considered Brishell, or “Bree” as she called her, her “little sister.” They both loved cartoons (Brown’s favorite was “Scooby-Doo,” Brishell’s was “Hello Kitty”), shopping and eating together at restaurants. They even planned to go to college in the same town in Florida after they graduated from high school, Brown said.
At Brishell's funeral, she sat in the second pew behind Brishell’s parents and other family members. Though she was still recovering from her injuries, she wanted to be there.
“To me, it was just the last time I could see her,” Brown recalled. It was the only funeral of her three friends killed that night that she attended. “My mother didn’t want me to be overwhelmed,” she said.
After the shooting, her mother had to sleep with her each night for about two months. Even taking a shower by herself was frightening. And whenever she heard a car go past her house, especially at night, she would become anxious.
Brown, now a freshman psychology major at a college in West Virginia, said she still flinches sometimes when she spots a vehicle racing past her. Someday she hopes to work with people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
She and Brishell’s mother talk weekly. Jefferies took Brown shopping for school supplies at the beginning of the school year. And earlier this month, Jefferies sent her $100 for her 19th birthday.
“She’s my second mom,” Brown said. “Her family is my family.”
The two sat together during a hearing last year in D.C. Superior Court. It was the first time Brown had seen the five men prosecutors say are responsible for so much violence. If she’s called to testify at their trial, Brown said, she’ll be “uncomfortable” having to describe the night of the shootings in front of them.
“To sit there and talk about what they did to me, and Brishell being gone, it’s going to be weird,” she said.
Brown still bears the physical scars from the deadly night on her leg and back. The nerves in her left arm, below where the first bullet exited, have not healed properly, leaving her without feeling in part of her arm.
She said she realizes she is “blessed” to have survived the attack.
“I don’t know what’s so significant about my life, but I cherish it. I really do,” Brown said. “I know there is a reason I am still here. I am trying to figure that out so I can live up to it.”