Matthew Castro Shlonsky was an international relations guru with a promising future, a Cleveland native who had grown to love the District. He spoke fluent Spanish, played hockey and had an affinity for concerts at Echostage.
On Saturday, the affable and popular Shlonsky was on his way to meet friends at a going-away party when things turned deadly.
It was about 5 p.m. and Shlonsky, 23, had just stepped out of a cab near Seventh and S streets NW, not far from the Shaw-Howard University Metro station, when he was struck by a bullet that police think was probably intended for someone else.
The 2014 American University graduate became the latest victim of an uptick in deadly gun violence in the city—and the fourth in a week in Shaw. On Tuesday, three people were shot at Seventh and O streets NW, not far from where Shlonsky was killed. And on Memorial Day, near the same intersection, a 31-year-old mother was felled by a stray bullet during a cookout.
“Matt was just starting out his life as a young man and loved, loved Washington, loved what he was doing,” his father Michael Shlonsky said from the Cleveland suburb of Lyndhurst on Sunday. “He was interested in everything. He was just a voracious reader, a fair, equal, impartial participant in every walk of life.”
The elder Shlonsky said his son’s death had left the family in a state of shock and grief. “There are no words to describe what’s going on,” he said. “The emotions are larger than vocabulary.”
D.C. police said Sunday that the investigation into the shooting was ongoing and declined to comment further. On Saturday, police said they were looking for a burgundy Chrysler 300 with Maryland license plates. A vehicle matching that description was seen fleeing the area after the shooting. No arrests have been made.
According to a police report, officers were flagged down by a witness who said Shlonsky had been shot. When they arrived at the scene, they found Shlonsky unconscious and faceup on the ground with one gunshot wound. Authorities performed CPR on Shlonsky, who was taken to Howard University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Ben Matek, a former classmate of Shlonsky’s who said he was headed to the same party, said Shlonsky and some friends had taken a cab to Right Proper Brewing Company, where the party was to be held. Moments after exiting the cab, Matek said, Shlonsky told a friend he felt as though he’d been struck by something. He then collapsed.
A stillness hung in the air Sunday at the site of Shlonsky’s killing, a sharp contrast to the mayhem of a day earlier. There was little evidence of a shooting — no memorial, no evident damage, just a few strands of police tape.
Blocks away, police handed out fliers and pamphlets at an informational tent near Sixth and O streets. The community outreach post was erected Wednesday after the previous shooting, and will be staffed indefinitely, the officers there said Sunday, in hopes of easing residents’ fears.
Eleanor Sohnen, 36, said she was close to the scene on Saturday, exiting the Metro station minutes after the shooting. Sohnen, who is 7
“It set me on edge,” she said. “It freaked me out a bit.”
She and her husband say they’ve seen the neighborhood undergo vast change over the past five years, with many blighted and abandoned buildings restored or replaced by salons, markets and bustling cafes. Sohnen was once uncomfortable walking in the area alone at night, but now she is able to do so — with some precautions — like keeping her phone tucked away and “looking purposeful and tough.”
But there are elements of Shaw’s past, Eisenberg says, that remain.
“It might look pretty around here, but for many of the city’s residents, circumstances haven’t changed,” said Eisenberg, who has lived within a mile of the area for 25 years. “The underlying economic structure isn’t improving.”
Near the police outpost, 35-year-old Jeffrey Scott said the violence this summer is the worst he can recall in the three years he has lived in Shaw. Scott, who lives near Seventh and P, says he heard the shots ring out Tuesday night. He was glad to see the increased police presence in the neighborhood following that shooting, but wondered what more could be done.
“It’s good that they’ve got up a post, but then yesterday in broad daylight that happens,” he said referring to Shlonsky’s killing.
“This is almost like your favorite TV show ending when the show just started getting good,” said Aris Ford-Hall, a close friend of Shlonsky’s from Cleveland. “He had just graduated college and started a job. All his friends back at home knew Matt was going to make it far in life. Most of us looked at Matt for guidance. He was a role model and was loved by everyone.”
Matek, who attended American with Shlonsky, said that everyone loved Shlonsky’s smile. “The moment you met him, he would always embrace you with a hug,” Matek said. “He was one of the most loving people I know. He was just the wrong person at the wrong time.”
After the shooting, the going-away party was canceled. Some of Shlonsky’s friends went to the hospital, and others got together privately to remember their friend. On Sunday morning, a private memorial with more than 100 people was held at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, the synagogue where Shlonsky, who lived in Northeast, volunteered.
After graduating from American in 2014 with a degree in international studies, Shlonsky worked as a consultant at Deloitte. According to his LinkedIn profile, Shlonsky’s classes at American included world politics, economics and foreign policy. In 2012, he studied abroad at a university in Chile, where he perfected his Spanish.
“Matt enjoyed the environment of D.C.,” Ford-Hall said. “He enjoyed hanging out with friends and loved all people from all different backgrounds. D.C. is such a diverse area and Matt loved it.
“He enjoyed reading, skiing and also playing hockey, trying to recruit as many kids as possible to play on the team, even if you couldn’t ice skate. ‘No worries, we’ll teach you,’ he would say throughout high school.”
American University released a statement that said in part, “The American University community is saddened by the tragic death of Matthew Shlonsky. . . . The AU community extends its deepest condolences to Matthew’s family and friends.”
Shlonsky was the second recent American graduate killed this summer. Kevin Joseph Sutherland, a 2013 American alumnus, was fatally stabbed on a Metro train on July 4.
Shlonsky had been an international trade intern for Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) for five months in 2013.
“This is a terrible tragedy,” Portman said in a statement Sunday. “Matt was a talented young man with a bright future who was taken from us too soon. He was an outstanding intern for me in Washington. [My wife’s] and my thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends and the Cleveland community during this difficult time.”
Ford-Hall said that Shlonsky “was my best friend. Although he was in D.C. and I’m in Cleveland, we would always talk — whether it was sending each other our favorite hip-hop, dance, techno and reggaeton songs for the month via text — or me asking Matt about what happened on Capitol Hill today.”
“One thing I will always remember is his goofy laugh,” Ford-Hall said. “Matt was the type of person that if you were his friend, he had your back, regardless.”
Matek, who is a couple of years older than Shlonsky, said, “he almost felt like a little brother. For me, it is hard. It’s just an unfortunate accident. I hope the police catch who did this.”