The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Her husband was on a walk when a stranger shot him. Now she’s trying to help her family move on.

A bicycle path winds along the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington. Along this stretch of trail, Victor Williams was killed during a random attack while walking his dogs in July. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Dione Williams’s oldest daughter dropped out of college. Another daughter is struggling through her high school classes. Her son threw himself into sports as a distraction from the pain.

Months after her 37-year-old husband, Victor Williams, was shot dead while walking his prized dogs in a waterfront park in the District last summer, she and her family are still reeling. The gunman, high on PCP and riding a red bicycle, shot Williams from behind, then stood over him and fired twice more as he lay facedown on the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail.

Police said the gunman then killed one of Williams’s dogs, a four-month-old Belgian Malinois named Vash. He spared a smaller Mastiff. It was 8:30 in the morning.

Dione Williams is now busy packing up her single-family house in a subdivision in Southeast Washington. Amid her family’s strain at school and at home, she’s building a new house, ready in October, and a new life.

“Somewhere quiet,” is all she would divulge. Most important, she said, it’s “somewhere away from here.”

She first met her husband of 18 months in junior high school. They ran into each other a decade ago at a school reunion. Off to a martini bar, they just hung out and later became a couple. She had three children — then 6, 8 and 10 years old — and they quickly embraced their mom’s new boyfriend. He became their father long before the couple married after years of courtship.

Police arrest suspect in killing man, dog along Anacostia Riverwalk Trail

Now the house where the couple had built a family is going up for sale. It had quickly taken on Victor Williams’s signature. He and his father painted the walls a soft pastel. And he often cooked, filling the rooms with the aroma of spice-rubbed lamb.

“I don’t think I’ll ever walk out my door again feeling safe,” Williams said weeks after her husband’s killer was sentenced to 27 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

“Nothing will ever be the same again,” she said. “When the world reveals its ugly eyes to you, and how malicious and how cruel people can be, there’s no way of turning back and seeing good in much of anything.”

A walk turned deadly

Victor Williams had spent nearly 20 years working for a catering company in Maryland, and he was in the midst of transitioning to his dream job. He wanted to breed dogs. The Washington native attended animal behavior college. He took a job at a dog kennel and was preparing to launch his own business.

He was training the Malinois, which resembles a shepherd, to be a police or service dog. He had bred the dog that was spared, a mix of a Presa Canario, a Dogo Argentino and an African Boerboel. A cousin took in that dog.

Each morning before work, Victor Williams drove his dogs the four miles to the River Terrace neighborhood, where his father lived, and then to the paved trail between the rows of apartments and the Anacostia River. The old RFK Stadium looms over the river; a confluence of brown signs near a playground offers paths in three directions. On the morning of July 26, he chose the East Bank route.

Following him on a red bicycle, police said, was Wandell G. Roy, 42. Williams made it only a few hundred yards. Police said Roy discarded his bicycle on the side of the trail, and when he got 20 feet behind Williams, he fired four times from a .40-caliber handgun. “After Mr. Williams’s body immediately dropped to the ground, Roy walked up to his body and shot him at close range at least two more times,” prosecutors said.

Police found Williams’s body and both dogs — one dead, the other alive — a pair of Apple ear buds that had been torn in half, money, Gucci sunglasses and a pocket knife. His iPhone 7 was missing.

A witness who saw the shooting told police the gunman jumped back on the bike and pedaled north. Another witness told police that moments after the shooting, he waved to the bicyclist and said good morning, and that the man returned the greeting.

A few days later, police encountered Roy walking amid traffic on Interstate 295. Authorities said he appeared to be under the influence of drugs and had fresh hospital stitches in his head. Police said Roy told them he had been riding a red bike on the Riverwalk trail days earlier when a man hit him on the head with a gun, robbed him and then fatally shot another man. He said the man had taken his iPhone 7.

But suspicion fell on Roy. Police said his clothing matched surveillance video, and the victim’s iPhone was active later that day in the Paradise apartment complex two miles north of the bridge, near where Roy lived. Police also said Roy had volunteered to detectives that he saw the gunman fire a .40-caliber gun. The caliber had not been released publicly.

Roy was charged, but police initially were given bad information that would bring more pain to the family. Detectives had been told that a family dispute may have led to the killing, a theory ultimately proven to be false.

There was no motive. Roy’s attorney, Jonathan Zucker, said his client was high on PCP, a mind- ­altering drug that can distort reality and lead to violent behavior. He said Roy has been addicted to drugs since he was a teenager and suffers from mental illness that was never properly treated.

“He arbitrarily killed a complete stranger,” Zucker said. He said earlier that same day, Roy tried to break into a home while half-naked. His girlfriend and other family members declined to comment. Most of his past crimes were nonviolent and linked to drugs.

Zucker wrote in a court filing that “the victim was arbitrarily and randomly the person the defendant encountered while under the influence of PCP. There seems no other reason he became the victim in this case.”

'I immediately knew'

Dione Williams is a supervisor in the District’s 911 center, overseeing operators who field emergency calls and dispatchers who assign those calls to police, firefighters and paramedics.

She had been working a string of overnight shifts and the ­morning of July 26, she signed off at 6 a.m. Had she been at work, she would have heard the call for her husband’s shooting and, because of its seriousness, been responsible for directing text alerts to city leaders. She wouldn’t have known the victim’s name.

As it turned out, Williams went nearly the entire day without knowing what happened. She met a friend for lunch at Uncle Julio’s in Fairfax Corner, Va., the same restaurant where her husband had proposed to her over steak fajitas and bacon-wrapped shrimp in garlic sauce. They even sat at the same table.

Throughout the day, Williams tried to contact her husband. She texted him her plans in the morning, photos from the restaurant, and later notes about plans for ice cream and family movie night. He never responded.

She figured he was busy with the dogs. Still, she said, “It didn’t feel right.”

Around 3:30 p.m., Williams said one of her husband’s cousins called. Had she seen the news? A man had been shot in Anacostia Park with his dog.

“I immediately knew,” Williams said.

Seven months later, Williams spoke at Roy’s sentencing.

“I didn’t break down crying until I looked at him,” she said.

“I guess at that moment I realized that my life wasn’t the only one affected by his actions,” she said. “My heart broke for him.”

But, she said, “My heart also broke for myself.”

She realized that all her texts — the photos from lunch, the note about family movie night — had gone to her husband’s killer.

“He had the phone.”

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