Five days after a man fired a gunshot down an escalator at a bustling Northwest Washington Metro station in broad daylight, police continue to search for a suspect, and little information has been made public on the circumstances of the shooting.
Police first acknowledged the shooting Monday, three days after the incident, when D.C. police posted harrowing surveillance footage of a man firing a gun at the top of the escalator at Columbia Heights station. Police asked for help identifying either of the two people of interest in the incident, labeled an “assault with a dangerous weapon.”
In the video, which drew comparisons to a movie scene, two men chase another man onto the plaza in front of the station. One man wields a gun in his hand while the other repeatedly places his hand in his waistband.
At the top of the escalator, as the victim rushes down, a man wearing a jacket and blue jeans fires a gun, and a burst of smoke pours from the barrel. The shooter flees, and the man on the escalator disappears into the station. At that point, according to Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly, the victim told a station manager that someone outside the station had been chasing him. D.C. police said it did not appear anyone was struck in the incident, which occurred about 12:15 p.m.
“The suspect did not enter Metro and fled on the street,” Ly added. The victim left the scene, she said.
Neighborhood officials say a gun has been recovered, but the apparent shooter fled, information police have yet to publicly confirm. In emails to Advisory Neighborhood Commission members, police Cmdr. Stuart Emerman said officers had recovered a weapon discarded in the area after a Friday afternoon pursuit in Columbia Heights. Emerman said police chased a suspect on foot “but he managed to make good his escape.”
In response to the incident, Emerman told an ANC commissioner that police had increased their visibility in the area and alerted officers to the description of the suspect in an attempt to find him. The commander also said police believe that the individual involved in the incident was targeted and that the apparent suspect knew the victim.
“We do not believe that this was a random incident,” he wrote.
In the aftermath of the shooting, authorities were still piecing together the sequence of events. Metro said it was not immediately evident that a shot had been fired. The surveillance footage, however, shed light on the events.
“In this case, whether and where a firearm had been discharged was not immediately known, as initially there was no obvious crime scene, victim or witnesses who remained on scene for responding officers,” Ly said. “Subsequent investigation yielded useful camera footage from private surveillance cameras, which provided detectives with a clearer understanding of what had occurred, including the fact that the suspect fled on the street and did not enter Metro.”
Ly said Metro did not release information on the shooting because D.C. police, as the lead agency, determine which details to reveal — and when — to maintain the integrity of the investigation. But the lunchtime shooting, adjacent to a shopping complex with a Target, Best Buy and other stores, shocked neighborhood residents and officials.
“I was very disturbed to see someone shooting a gun down an escalator at Metro,” Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans said.
ANC commissioners were similarly dismayed.
“When I looked at the video, it’s disturbing. It’s a kick to the gut every time I see something like that,” said ANC Commissioner Christine Miller, whose district is in Columbia Heights. “It’s just the feeling that, ‘What if?’ ”
ANC Commissioner Zach Rybarczyk, who lives in the adjacent residential and commercial building where the footage appeared to have originated, said the consequences could have been tragic.
“I’m very thankful that it didn’t happen maybe three hours later, four hours later, when schools were letting out,” he said. “I can only imagine how bad that situation would have been.”
Metro defended its decision not to publicize the incident and said the case was taken on by D.C. police because the chase began off Metro property and the perpetrator never entered Metro.
On social media, however, messages of outrage were plentiful. Metro critics piled on the agency for its only public acknowledgment of the incident, a Friday afternoon tweet that said the station’s west entrance was closed due to an investigation “off Metro property.”
“Heard shooting was on WMATA escalator. If true, WMATA deceptive in saying Investigation is off WMATA property,” tweeted one user.
Evans, who also is a D.C. Council member, said the crime wasn’t necessarily specific to the Metro system, as the incident appeared to have started in the adjacent blocks. “The best we can hope for is things like that don’t happen, and when they do,” authorities swiftly make an arrest to send a message, he said.
Still, Evans said Metro could have communicated the incident to riders, even if it was a D.C. police investigation.
“Personally, if it were me at Metro, I would have said something,” Evans said. “I have always had a problem with Metro being too close to the vest when things happen. That’s the mind-set of Metro — is to generally not be open as they should be.”
Others suggested that an officer should be permanently stationed outside the Columbia Heights station.
D.C. police have not responded to an inquiry on whether they are considering such a move.