The two dozen people enjoying dinner on the patio of Provision No. 14, a restaurant along the U Street corridor, barely flinched at the sound of the first gunshot. The owner said, “It was the second, third and fourth shot” nearby that emptied the outdoor eating area and sent patrons diving under tables.
The gunfire at 14th and V streets NW killed one man shortly before 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and prompted new fears in a neighborhood enjoying a resurgence of entertainment and dining.
The incident also increased the District’s homicide count — now 116, compared with 105 in all of last year. During the city’s summer crime wave, homicides surged 40 percent from the same period in 2014.
Authorities on Wednesday identified the victim as Delany Christopher Epps, 29, described by his sister, Erika Epps, as a jokester and the father of five young children who lived with his grandmother in Northeast Washington but hung out nightly along U Street. Erika said she had no idea why her brother was killed.
Police arrested a suspect minutes after the shooting. Raphael Antonio Roy, 29, of Northwest was charged with first-degree murder while armed. Police, who chased the gunman after witnesses pointed out his escape route, said they found a Hi-Point 9mm handgun in the back of an apartment building.
Roy told police that he went to V Street to buy marijuana and argued with somebody who “made a move on him,” according to a police arrest affidavit filed in court. He told detectives that the man he was arguing with fired a gun during a struggle over the weapon and shot Epps, the affidavit said.
However, numerous witnesses described a man being shot in the middle of the street, and police said in the affidavit that they think the shooting is linked to an incident 30 minutes earlier at a recreation center in Northeast in which a man accused Roy of pointing a gun at him.
The shooting “was a terrifying night for everyone,” said Mike Bramson, the managing partner for a group that runs Provision No. 14, which opened May 29. Bramson added: “We knew this was a transitional neighborhood when we came here. But we never expected this to happen. We need to do something about this. If we need to lead the charge, we will do it.”
Bramson said a surveillance camera pointed at the patio showed people scrambling for cover as gunfire continued less than 50 feet away. He said there were 25 people on the patio; two left after the shooting, two retreated inside and the remainder stayed to finish their meals.
Neighborhood Internet bulletin boards lighted up on Wednesday with people vowing to flee the area north of Logan and Dupont circles.
A woman wrote of hearing gunfire while with four children at a gas station a block away. “Hugged my kids a little tighter tonight,” she posted on the blog. A person looking out from an apartment window said the shooter threw the gun over a fence. “We’re with those moving away,” the person wrote.
There have been two nonfatal shootings near the U Street corridor this year, along with 30 robberies, six of them with guns, according to D.C. police statistics. In June, a 70-year-old man was charged with fatally stabbing a woman during a domestic dispute. In February, a man who police said robbed two people near U Street killed himself during an exchange of gunfire with officers. And in July, the grandson of the late “60 Minutes” broadcaster Andy Rooney was slashed after he was followed home on U Street.
Tuesday’s shooting was the latest of several reported in populous areas of the city during times when many people are out performing ordinary tasks. It occurred a half-mile from where an American University graduate was killed last month by a stray bullet near the Shaw-Howard University Metro station.
James A. Turner, chairman of the advisory neighborhood commission for the U Street corridor, said that although U Street has become a citywide attraction, it also “is an area of opportunity” for crime.
Mark Yarnell, 34, was crossing 14th Street, headed home after a workout, when he heard gunshots, and he and others ran. “Some were hiding behind buildings,” he said. “We didn’t know where it was coming from. It was incredibly close.”
Yarnell moved to the U Street area two years ago from the Mount Pleasant neighborhood and works for a company that researches refugee camps in Africa. He was supposed to be in Somalia this week, but the trip was canceled because the security situation there had worsened.
“It’s such a mind bend to be so close to gunfire right in my own neighborhood,” he said, noting that he has visited countless conflict zones around the world, “and this was the closest I’ve come to direct gunfire.”
Yarnell said that after talking with friends: “I learned there are certain places they try to avoid if they’re walking home late at night. That surprised me. I generally feel quite safe around here. People are out at all times. But shootings like this tend to put things in perspective.”