He chugs sugary soda one can after another. He like chips, too, and the color red. Though the sixth-grader doesn’t play organized sports, he likes to pretend he is a big-time football player.
The boy is, his aunt said, “a typical 12-year-old.”
He is also is one of the District’s latest crime victims — shot and critically wounded a few minutes past 7 p.m. on Thursday in a maze of courtyards between Douglas and Ponds streets in the Kenilworth-Parkside apartment complex in Northeast Washington.
His aunt said he was probably headed to the house of a woman known as the “candy lady,” who sells snacks out of her home.
Police did not name the boy, and The Washington Post talked to his aunt on the condition that neither he nor his family would be identified. The gunmen have not been arrested.
The Kelly Miller Middle School student is recovering at a hospital, which D.C. police Chief Peter Newsham visited Friday. In a video posted on Twitter afterward, the chief asked “everyone to say a prayer for him and his family and make sure he makes it through this.”
Newsham said he told the boy’s mother that “this kid is a hero and the people who are responsible for this are cowards.” Police said the youth remained in critical condition Friday afternoon. At one point Thursday night, authorities described the wounded youth as “unconscious and unresponsive.”
The boy’s aunt was more upbeat, saying “it looks like he’s going to recover, slowly but surely.” The 27-year-old spoke briefly as she ran errands near her nephew’s home on Friday, emerging just after police detectives who had been on scene 15 hours collected the final bits of evidence near vehicles with shattered windows. As they finished, officers rolled up so much crime scene tape — indicative of the sprawling crime scene — that it looked as if they were dragging large yellow trash bags as they departed.
The Kenilworth neighborhood is a mix of small stand-alone homes and a public housing complex in a dead-end corner of the District, hemmed in by Interstate 295, the Anacostia River, and Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. Gun crimes dropped in the first seven weeks of this year compared to last, though near the shooting scene six stuffed bears hung on a fence with red “I love you hearts” — a tribute to a 19-year-old killed in October. The bears surround a T-shirt with the victim’s picture and the words “We Thuggin for Murda.”
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Friday the D.C. Housing Authority is working to put more cameras in communities like Kenilworth-Parkside in the hopes of quickly apprehending criminals. It was not clear if cameras that are there captured any part of Thursday’s shooting.
“It is very disgusting that we have people who are willing to put other people’s lives in danger who are children,” Bowser said. “We have to find out and get the shooters off the streets; it’s just really that simple.”
Bowser and acting D.C. Public Schools chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee spoke briefly with reporters as they visited Houston Elementary in Northeast Washington on Friday for a reading event.
Ferebee said he spoke to the principal at Kelly Miller Middle School on Thursday evening. The city deployed social and mental health workers to the school to support students and staff. “When it impacts a young person, it impacts the entire school community,” Ferebee said.
Thursday’s crime scene stretched from Douglas to Ponds streets, an area including 450 feet of interlocking courtyards and an unnamed road used by residents. It was unclear precisely where in this expanse police said at least two gunmen opened fire — a police report identifies one of the weapons as a rifle. Police said they also didn’t know if groups of gunmen were shooting back and forth.
The shooting’s intensity resembled other recent incidents in the District involving multiple gunmen, indiscriminate fire and dozens of bullets. Ten-year-old Makiyah Wilson was gunned down in July by one of 76 bullets fired into a courtyard by four masked men. A teenager was wounded in January amid 40 bullets. Newsham declined to say how many bullets were fired Thursday, but he said it was “unbelievable, the amount of shell casings we found.”
The victim’s aunt said she heard the gunshots and then got a frantic call from her nephew’s sister. He had been shot, but they didn’t know where. They rushed from their houses, called out his name and tried to figure out if anyone knew what he had been wearing. The aunt found him lying on patch of dirt along Ponds Road.
Newsham, addressing reporters at the shooting scene Thursday night, described the wounded youth as an unintended victim. “It’s got to stop,” he said of the violence.
Last year ended with nearly a 40 percent jump in killings, and this year has not gotten off to a promising start. There have been 21 homicides so far this year, up from 14 at this time in 2018. Nine of last year’s fatally injured victims were between the ages 10 and 17. Three youths, including the boy on Thursday, have been wounded by gunfire this year — the others were a girl at a bus stop and a 6-year-old boy in the back of a car.
Newsham, Bowser and U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu of the District are instituting a new plan to prosecute some gun crimes in federal instead of local court, taking advantage of mandatory minimum sentences. District leaders say gun crimes are not being handled with a sense of urgency at the local level.
“I think over time we’re obviously going to have some success turning this around,” Newsham told reporters Thursday night. “I tell people all the time — I’ll say it again. In this city we have got to get serious about gun offenses, and in my opinion, we don’t take gun offenses seriously. I’m going to continue to echo that until somebody listens.”