Karon Brown, 11, and his brother Quentin had walked to the McDonald’s not far from their Southeast D.C. home to get their older sister a double cheeseburger, an order of french fries and a smoothie.
Once there, Quentin grew impatient and returned home. But his mother sent him back to the shopping strip at Naylor Road and Alabama Avenue to fetch his brother. By that time, about 7 p.m. Thursday, a fight inside the restaurant involving children and adults had spilled to the street.
Quentin, 12, heard gunshots and raced home.
His little brother never made it back.
In the midst of the fighting, authorities believe a man who happened to be driving by the violence saw Karon being assaulted and tried to rescue the boy by beckoning him into the car. But as the driver tried to get the boy to safety, someone in the crowd fired a shot that went into the vehicle and struck the boy in his upper body.
Weeks before he was to begin sixth grade, Karon died at an area hospital.
The series of events was described by police officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an open investigation. At this point in the case, they said, they believe the gunman targeted the boy.
“I just lost it. I couldn’t believe it,” the boy’s mother, Kathren Brown, said Friday in her living room, still wearing the pink T-shirt she had on the night before, when she rushed to the scene to find police and flashing emergency lights.
“I still can’t believe it. I am waiting for someone to say all this did not just happen,” she said. “This is not how we planned our summer. Now I have to sit here and plan a funeral for my baby.”
The circumstances of the shooting and reasons for the fight that led up to it on a sweltering summer night remained murky Friday, even to police who said they are trying to figure out how an 11-year-old went into a McDonald’s and ended up in a fight with adults that turned deadly.
Police published images of a suspected shooter, a man in his late 20s or early 30s, running shirtless and clutching a handgun in his left hand. They said as many as five people are being sought in the incident. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) on Thursday went to the scene, where she urged residents to help police find the people involved “so we can take the killer off the streets.”
“Senseless gun violence has taken the life of a child in our community,” Bowser wrote in a tweet. She later announced that federal law enforcement pitched in to double the city’s standard reward in a homicide case to $50,000.
Karon’s killing comes amid concern over an uptick in deadly violence in the District. He was the city’s 88th homicide victim this year, up about 8 percent from this time in 2018. That year closed with a 40 percent jump in homicides.
Brown said she and her family had moved about a year ago to Woodland Terrace, a public housing community about a half-mile from where Karon was shot. Though it has a history of violence, Brown said she was trying to escape similar problems in her former neighborhood in Northeast Washington.
They had lived near Makiyah Wilson, a 10-year-old girl who was shot and killed last summer as she headed to an ice cream truck. Police said she was an unintended victim of a feud between neighborhood crews. Makiyah, Karon and Quentin were all friends and attended school together, Brown said.
Karon, a football fan who liked the Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers, had just completed the fifth grade at Stanton Elementary School, located near where he was shot. The walls of his bedroom are adorned with certificates hailing improvements in math, excellence in reading and perfect attendance from prior schools.
Harold McCray Jr., the Stanton principal, sent a letter to parents calling Karon’s death “a devastating loss” and noting members of a crisis response team are available to help.
Though small and topping out at just under 90 pounds, Karon played defensive end for the Woodland Tigers football team, where his coach described him as a proficient tackler and an instigator of practical jokes.
“He was a good kid,” said Michael Zanders, the coach and director of the Woodland Tigers Youth Sports and Educational Program, a nonprofit set up to help the youth in the troubled public housing complex. “He was funny. He loved to eat, to run and he came to practice on time.”
Zanders recalled taking Karon and his teammates camping last year at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, Va., a half-hour’s drive outside the District. Karon kept asking for more S’mores to put over the fire, and then, when it came time to say good night, he slipped a rubber snake into Zanders’s sleeping bag.
“I said, ‘Who did this?’ and they all sat back and laughed,” Zanders recalled. “And they all pointed, ‘Karon did it, Karon did it.’ ”
The coach paused, and sighed, and stammered, “He didn’t deserve this.”
Now Zanders is helping Karon’s mother with funeral arrangements, while trying to understand what happened to his defensive end. “Who would jump this little boy?” he said.
Authorities said they think Karon was being assaulted outside when the driver in the sedan saw him.
After the shooting, the driver rushed the boy to a fire station in Maryland. Karon was then taken to Children’s National Medical Center in the District but could not be saved.
Karon’s mother, with a slight laugh, said Karon was “very opinionated” and often argumentative. “He always had to have the last word, especially when he believed he was right.”
He was her youngest child, and she believed he would grow up to become an attorney. “I would have to tell him, ‘Boy, I’m the mother here. I get the last word,’ ” Brown said.
Whatever happened in that McDonald’s, Brown said her son never purchased the food for his sister. “I just have so many questions. No one is telling me anything,” she said.
Brown said she has repeatedly told Quentin that his actions did not lead to his brother’s death. Quentin, without taking his eyes off the video game, nodded his head in agreement.
Paul Trantham, the area’s advisory neighborhood commissioner and an activist, described the streets around the shopping plaza as a known place for drug deals and other suspicious activity.
He urged police to do more patrols in areas where problems occur and urged residents to report people with guns.
“We’re tired of kids being shot,” he said. “We’re tired of everybody being shot. And the leaders said the same thing every time. . . . These people are coming in with broad daylight and shooting like it’s the Wild West. And they killed an 11-year-old child.”
Perry Stein contributed to this report.