Eleven weeks ago, Ebonee Hill’s 12-year-old son was shot outside her family’s Northeast Washington apartment. After a long recovery, the sixth-grader was able to return to school, though he’s still too afraid to go outside.
Then, on Saturday, Hill was on her way home from work when her daughter called with an urgent message. Gunfire had again erupted outside their Kenilworth-Parkside residence, and another of her sons was struck. She said her 13-year-old might be paralyzed from a bullet that pierced his side and lodged near his spine.
“I’m just numb right now,” said Hill, 34, after meeting with her son and his doctor at a hospital. “I haven’t gotten over my first son being shot, and now I have to go through this again. He was laughing, playing, joking, riding a bike, running, and now he could be in a wheelchair.”
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham called the shootings of the two young brothers in a span of weeks “mind-boggling,” even as the District has been grappling with gun violence that has contributed to a rising homicide rate. The 13-year-old was among four people shot in a rapid series of attacks around the city Saturday night, including one that claimed the life of an 18-year-old and another that left another young teenager with a wound to his shoulder.
More than a half-dozen children have been wounded since January in the nation’s capital, and at least one 16-year-old has been fatally shot.
Hill’s two sons, in the sixth and seventh grades at Kelly Miller Middle School, are on the list of younger victims. Police think the 12-year-old, shot on Valentine’s Day, was an unintended victim in a burst of gunfire; they are still investigating the circumstances of Saturday’s shooting. No arrests have been made in either, and police said it does not appear the shootings are related.
“It’s incredible that one family would be impacted in this way,” Newsham said. “I think it says there are people in this community that will fire a weapon with no regard to where the bullet goes. They just don’t care.”
Hill, a mother of seven, said the Saturday violence came as her son was with a group of people who had gathered on Douglas Street. She said he was leaning against a fence, talking with friends. It was just after 9:30 p.m.
One person in the group heard a noise. Heads turned. Then gunshots, “and my son fell to the ground,” said Hill, who said she learned this account from bystanders after she arrived at the scene.
A police report says at least 13 gunshots were fired by two people. A police spokesman said the young victim was in a small crowd of adults and children, and police do not know who, if anyone, was targeted.
Hill’s 12-year-old son was shot Feb. 14 as he walked home from a playground to get snacks. Authorities described him being caught in a barrage of gunfire that the police chief said at the time left behind an “unbelievable” number of shell casings scattered in a courtyard near his apartment.
Hill said the boy has recovered physically but still harbors psychological scars. “He rarely goes outside, and only when he’s with a lot of people and when there’s a car,” she said. “Otherwise, he stays in the house.”
The brothers were close and often stayed together, roaming the outside pathways and alleys that crisscross the housing complex near the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens — energetic youths who grabbed snacks from neighbors, collaborated on makeshift music videos, tossed footballs and rode bikes.
Hill said her 12-year-old went to classes Monday at Kelly Miller, where a crisis response team had been dispatched to offer counseling to help students trying to comprehend the shootings of two of their classmates.
The principal, Kortni Stafford, sent a letter to parents Sunday informing them that a student had been “a victim of violence” and that support would be available for their children. “I send positive thoughts of recovery to the affected student,” the principal wrote.
Hill said her 13-year-old is just coming to understand his uncertain future. She visited him Monday, when they both learned he might be paralyzed.
“He told me that as long as he’s alive, that’s all that matters,” Hill said.
Hill said that after the shooting in February, which came after a fatal shooting on her block, she requested that the D.C. Housing Authority move her family. She was put on a waiting list.
A statement from housing officials says they approved Hill’s request for an emergency relocation in less than a week but have been unable to find an apartment to accommodate her large family. More than 2,600 housing units are in need of repair, further slowing the process.
A spokesman for the Housing Authority said that as of August, 278 families have been approved for a public safety transfer. Hill’s family is one of 69 waiting.
“I cannot imagine the horror of learning that my child was critically injured; my heart and prayers go out to the family,” Tyrone Garrett, executive director of the Housing Authority, said in a statement. “Our staff is working with the family, community leaders, and District staff to ensure the family receives the services and safety they require.”
Perry Stein contributed to this report.