They wore ski masks, one green, one black, and held handguns when they were seen chasing 15-year-old Gerald Watson through the courtyard of a D.C. apartment complex.
Police said the two assailants cornered Watson in a stairwell. According to police, a witness overheard the high school freshman scream, “Help me! Open the door!” as he was shot 17 times. It was the afternoon of Dec. 13. Watson died at a hospital before the sun set that evening.
This week, D.C. police arrested one suspect, Malik Holston, 16, of Southeast Washington, and charged him as an adult with first-degree murder while armed. Authorities said the shooting was connected to a neighborhood dispute among teens who live less than a half-mile apart.
The arrest affidavit filed in D.C. Superior Court says that while police investigated, one witness told a detective, “Malik from Hartford Street, remember that name.”
Alberta Pearson, Watson’s grandmother, said that she was trying to grapple with the loss and that she “never thought in a million years” that gun violence would claim her grandson. “It’s just so sad,” she said. “Where are these children getting all of these guns? What is going on in their lives that makes them so angry and so bitter that they’re willing to take a life?”
Holston, 5 feet 4 inches tall and 130 pounds, made his first appearance in D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday, dwarfed by U.S. Marshals in his red Washington Redskins sweater and blue jeans. He softly answered a court clerk who asked his name, “Hello, Malik Holston.”
Magistrate Judge Errol R. Arthur ordered him held in the D.C. jail until his next hearing Dec. 28, despite pleas from the young suspect’s attorney, who questioned the reliably of witnesses.
Anthony Matthews of the Public Defender Service argued that only two of eight witnesses identified Holston and that one had initially been suspected as a shooter and admitted to having smoked crack cocaine. Matthews questioned how another witness identified Holston by looking into the masked shooter’s eyes. He described his client as a student who should return to his community and said Holston has no prior convictions. It was not clear where Holston attended school.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman asked that Holston be held, saying he had not been to school since the shooting and that the witnesses were reliable in describing the shooter. ‘The victim was shot 17 times at close range in a residential neighborhood in the middle of the day,” he said.
This week, police also arrested a suspect in an unrelated killing of a young man who was a 2016 graduate of Eastern High School, Randall Jaquan Francis. The 20-year-old was shot in front of a day-care center in the 1800 block of Benning Road NE on the afternoon of Nov. 26.
Police charged Malik Morris, 20, of Northeast Washington with first-degree murder while armed. He also made his initial appearance in D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday and was ordered detained until his next hearing, also on Dec. 28.
Francis had wanted to be a photographer and a model. The arrest affidavit says a gunman shot him in the body and head, and a man who knew the suspect and the victim told police that Morris had accused Francis of stealing a gun from him. Francis aspired to go to college, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said this week, noting that both he and Watson had promise.
Watson, who was a freshman at Anacostia High School, was remembered as someone who liked to help others. A counselor at the school said Watson had many friends and guided troubled classmates through therapy sessions.
“Lil’ G,” as he was known, played basketball in a late-night league called Shoot Hoops Not Bullets. But he made a name for himself on the football field, helping his team win a recreation-league championship this fall.
Pearson, his 62-year-old grandmother, said Watson also “loved to dance,” adding: “He always kept a smile on everybody’s face. He had an impact on everybody he came in contact with.”
Pearson, who lives in Congress Heights, said it was Watson’s nature to “be the one with a lending hand.” His grandmother called him “Big Sexy” because he attracted older girls so often that one of his teachers warned the ladies, “You all need to stand in line.”
“He always told his mom, ‘I’m going to make you proud of me,’ ” Pearson said.
Watson lived in a second-floor apartment in a building in the 2900 block of Knox Place SE, adjacent to the building in which he was shot. Pearson said Watson’s mother is a day-care teacher looking to get back to work; his father is home on disability. He had four brothers and two sisters.
Pearson said she had no information on the neighborhood dispute cited by police and said Watson was heading to a recreation center to play basketball when he was killed.
Police did not elaborate on a motive, saying they had little information beyond what people told them in the complex — that the shooting was sparked by a feud between teens who lived near Hartford Street SE and those who lived near Langston Place in Garfield Heights.
Several people told police that Holston had been seen shooting in the neighborhood before, including at another person on Knox Place. One person told police, according to the arrest affidavit, “The Youngin’s on Hartford were known to carry guns.”
Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.