D.C. police have arrested a man in the brutal killings of three men who were gunned down on a residential street in Southeast Washington near the end of January, shootings that contributed to a violent start to the year.
The break in the case brings new, chilling details to light as court documents describe a web of violence, sometimes deadly, that extended beyond the triple killing and involved a small group of people feuding with one another. The arrest did little, however, to provide a clear motive in the slayings of the three men, each of whom was shot multiple times.
Authorities charged Rakeem Willis, 28, of Northeast Washington with three counts of first-degree murder.
“We feel like we’ve gotten an extremely dangerous person off the street,” Police Chief Peter Newsham said Wednesday. “We are not done with this investigation by any stretch of the imagination.”
The chief said detectives are “looking at multiple possible motives” to explain the shootings of Sean Shuler, 26, of Capitol Heights, Md.; Tyrik Hagood, 24, of Northeast; and Javon Abney, 26, of Southeast.
“Perhaps the suspect in this case will give us information regarding that,” Newsham said. “To this date, he has not.”
An arrest affidavit filed in court alluded to several possible reasons for the triple killing, some coming from witnesses, others from police. Police said detectives are considering these scenarios and others.
Shuler had been scheduled to testify for prosecutors in a murder trial for a rival that was in progress when he was killed. In addition, police mentioned that a man fatally shot in Prince George’s County in early January was acquainted with both Willis and Shuler. A confidential source told police the victims were trying to buy firearms but did not have enough money.
Abney’s mother, LaVonne Abney, said police informed her of the arrest Tuesday night but said nothing about a possible motive. “It was a relief for me to hear from them last night,” she said. “It’s still a work in progress for me.”
Abney attended Wednesday’s court hearing as a judge ordered Willis detained until his next appearance June 20. Willis’s attorney did not return messages seeking comment. Willis has served prison time for stabbing a man in the D.C. jail and was charged in a 2010 killing, though prosecutors dismissed the case without providing a reason.
Shuler, Hagood and Abney were shot about 10 p.m. Jan. 26 on Fort Davis Place.
Abney was shot more than 15 times in the head, neck and body while sitting in the driver’s seat of a vehicle parked along the curb. Hagood was shot more than 10 times while in the front passenger seat and was found hanging out a window, according to the police affidavit. Police said they recovered cartridge casings from different guns at the scene.
Shuler was shot in the head and neck and was found in the street, about 40 yards away. Police said they found an insurance card next to his body that had been stolen in a theft from a car in Prince George’s.
The arrest affidavit says police found PCP in a map pouch in the car, along with a loaded gun with an extended magazine on the front seat. Authorities said the gun was not fired during the killings, but bullets from that gun were used in a fatal shooting in the District in 2018. Police also said casings found from a gun used in the killings have been linked to two other shootings in the District in 2017 and 2018.
The arrest affidavit says police are exploring Shuler’s role as a listed prosecution witness in a murder case against a longtime rival named Saeve Evans as among the possible motives.
Authorities had charged Evans with second-degree murder in the 2016 killing of 16-year-old Breyona McMillian outside her Potomac Gardens apartment complex. His trial started Jan. 24.
Prosecutors told jurors that 32-year-old Evans mistakenly shot Breyona as he fired on a black vehicle he thought was occupied by Shuler, with whom he had a long dispute. Shuler had been convicted of shooting Evans 19 times in 2012 — which he survived — and police accused Evans of shooting into a cookout where Shuler was a guest in 2014.
Evans’s attorneys argued at trial that someone in the car shot at their client, and he shot back in self-defense. The defense lawyers said they believed the bullets that struck Breyona were fired from inside the vehicle.
Prosecutors countered that police found no evidence that anyone in the car fired and that Shuler was not inside. They had planned to put Shuler on the witness stand to testify that he was not in the vehicle.
Shuler was killed before he could take the witness stand. A jury later found Evans not guilty in Breyona’s shooting but convicted him of possessing an unregistered handgun. His lawyer has said Evans had nothing to do with the January triple shooting.
Evans was sentenced in May to 4½ years in prison. That same month, he was charged with first-degree murder in another killing, this one of a man who was shot in 2009 in Southeast Washington.
“There is a small group of very dangerous people in our city that leads to most of the violence,” said Newsham. “We need to have consequences that change behavior, so we don’t get to the point where we have three men murdered on an otherwise quiet residential street.”