D.C. police responding to a midmorning holdup of a liquor store on busy Georgia Avenue on Monday exchanged gunfire with one suspect, who was killed, and arrested a second person in a nearby alley.
The burst of gunfire just off a commuter route near the Maryland border unnerved residents; one woman walking by said she dropped to the sidewalk. It also prompted police to shut down several streets for hours and dispatch a helicopter over the Shepherd Park neighborhood as they searched for clothing that they said one of the suspects shed as he tried to escape.
Officials said the robbery at Morris Miller Wines and Liquors, on Alaska Avenue just steps from the 7800 block of Georgia Avenue NW, occurred shortly after 9 a.m. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said that “there was gunfire exchanged, first with the suspect firing on [police] and [police] returning fire.”
The names of the dead suspect and the person who was arrested were not immediately made public on Monday as detectives continued to search for evidence. Police marked more than a dozen shell casings scattered in a parking lot where the shooting occurred and along Kalmia Road, in front of Northminster Presbyterian Church.
Police said the incident underscored a crime threat that has created fear in several neighborhoods across the District — an increase in holdups of people walking on the street and of stores. There have been 991 armed robberies reported this year in the District, up from 877 at this time last year.
“For a long time, our biggest criminal enterprise has been robberies,” D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said. “Typically, it’s small groups of individuals who will commit multiple robberies over a period of time.”
Robberies have been a problem in several areas of the city. The crimes have surged on Capitol Hill over the past several weeks, and police in recent days have arrested eight people they say are responsible for a series of attacks in that neighborhood near Eastern Market and H Street, and in the Navy Yard area.
Those arrests include five holdups that occurred within 40 minutes on Wednesday night and a man who was held up about 7 p.m. Sunday at Seventh and E streets NE. Authorities said a young man put a gun to the back of the victim’s head and pulled the trigger. The victim “heard a click,” a court document said, and three teens ran with $75, credit cards and a cellphone. One person was later arrested.
On Friday, police arrested a juvenile and charged him in six robberies along the Rhode Island Avenue corridor in Northeast. That same night, police said, a victim in the Navy Yard neighborhood tackled a juvenile who allegedly robbed him.
Lanier said detectives will investigate whether the two people allegedly involved in Monday’s robbery of the Morris Miller liquor store can be linked to other crimes. The shooting by police will also undergo an extensive review; police said they recovered a gun next to the dead suspect’s body and have video from surveillance cameras inside the shop.
Representatives from Morris Miller — one of the District’s oldest liquor stores, established in 1934 — could not be reached. The store was the first to get a license to sell alcohol after Prohibition, according to the Washington Evening Star, and customers come from the District and nearby Silver Spring.
The 911 call reporting a robbery at the shop brought a cavalcade of police cars and prompted a brief lockdown of businesses and homes as police searched for the second suspected robber.
Ryanne Coward, 27, was walking by her home on Kalmia Road when she heard an officer scream, “Get down on the ground,” followed by what she thought was as many as 30 gunshots fired from different weapons. She said one gun was louder than the others. “When I heard him yell, ‘Get down,’ I got down,” Coward said. “I dove to the pavement.”
The shootout occurred behind the liquor store, in a parking lot shared by businesses along a commercial strip. Hernan Carrasco was mending a century-old carpet at Manoukian Brothers Oriental Rugs when he heard gunshots. He rushed to the back of the store and a door that opens into the parking lot.
From his vantage point, the 51-year-old said, he saw one officer shooting and a person taking cover behind a trash bin. He said he could not see that person shoot, but he was closer to the officer. Police said several officers fired and that the suspect fired on them first.
“I was scared,” Carrasco said in Spanish, a co-worker translating. “I was afraid the bullets would come in here.” From the store’s back door, two clumps of shell casings could be seen — one near a police car, the other near a blue tarp that shielded the body.
Around the city, officials have been reaching out to residents concerned about the rise in robberies.
Lanier and other police officials have been invited to a crime meeting on Capitol Hill on Tuesday night. Upset residents have banded together to form a new group, Citizens for a Safe Capitol Hill.
D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), whose ward includes Capitol Hill, met with 75 residents at a coffeehouse on Friday. He said Lanier has committed to dispatching robbery suppression squads and having officers on bicycles work overtime to get a handle on the situation both on Capitol Hill and near the Navy Yard.
The council member said that “people I talk to are scared. They are seeing daytime armed robberies. They are seeing a flurry of nighttime robberies. They are asking, ‘Am I safe walking in my neighborhood?’ ”
Dana Hedgpeth, John Kelly, Dan Morse and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.