The nightclub owner felt the gun pressed to his back and heard the voice commanding, “Hold on. Do not move.” The victim smiled, figuring that a friend was playing a joke on him.
But then two more men with guns appeared, bandannas covering their faces. They ordered the owner’s manager and a friend to the ground outside his club, M.I.A Lounge, in the Dupont Circle area just after 6 a.m. Friday.
The club owner, 32, elbowed his attacker away and ran. His escape led to robbers and victims jumping into their cars and a chaotic high-speed car chase along downtown’s busiest, most-iconic streets. Pedestrians scattered as two cars jumped onto a sidewalk and a gunman fired out of his moving car.
It ended near the White House, about 10 blocks from where it started, with rattled victims seeking help at a U.S. Secret Service kiosk at Lafayette Square. The three robbers were still at large Friday night.
D.C. police have described the attack and ensuing pursuit only in general terms, calling it a chase in which the victims pursued their assailants. Authorities said they were following several leads and would not discuss a more-detailed version given by the nightclub’s owner.
The club owner agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity because his assailants were still at large. He believes that they were after his receipts, or perhaps a Porsche Cayenne and Jeep Compass his friends had parked outside.
“I know I was targeted,” he said in a telephone interview Friday from his home in Virginia. “I think they knew I owned the club. They approached me first. I was the first target.”
After the club owner and his general manager had closed up, they and their friends, two of them female, went off for dinner. They then walked back to Jefferson Place NW, where they had parked in an alley behind the 18th Street club.
The owner of M.I.A said the assailants were behind a construction truck and emerged about 6 a.m., the time he usually leaves.
“I thought it was one of my friends playing around,” he said. “I turned to the girl and said, ‘Is he real or is he joking?’ That’s why I smiled.”
One of his friends spotted the first gunman and tried to warn the nightclub owner, he said.
“As I turned back, I saw two other guys with guns and bandannas, and they had guns on my friends,” the owner said. “That’s when I knew it was really happening. It was a setup.”
He said he threw an elbow, pushed his surprised attacker and ran south on Connecticut Avenue. The gunman chased him until a friend, a woman driving the Jeep, caught up, and the club owner climbed into the passenger seat.
The gunman who was chasing him stopped and returned to the front of the club. The other gunmen quickly took wallets and phones from the general manager and a friend. All three robbers then piled into a Lincoln Town Car and chased the Jeep. The general manager and friend who had just been robbed then jumped into the Porsche and took off after the robbers.
The owner said the caravan dodged traffic, burst through red lights and sent pedestrians scampering off 19th Street when two of the cars ended up on a sidewalk as they passed M Street.
As he approached L Street, he heard a gunshot. He crouched to the floor while he talked with a 911 operator on his cellphone.
“I didn’t know who they had shot at,” he said. The bullet, police said, pierced the windshield of the Porsche.
As the cars approached Lafayette Square, the Town Car passed the Jeep, giving the club owner a look at the license plate. He thinks the robbers saw the Secret Service and decided to make their escape.
The club owner said he’s not sure if the gunmen thought he had the day’s receipts — he says he didn’t — and he suspects that they had planned to steal the Jeep and the Porsche but that his decision to throw an elbow upended their plans.
“They had to make it quick when I fled the scene,” he said. “They got scared. If I had stayed, they would’ve taken their time.”
The club owner said police told him that they found the Town Car’s owner, but not the vehicle itself, in Southeast and that the owner’s son was being sought for questioning. Police would not confirm that account.
Maggie Fazeli Fard contributed to this report.