- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2000

An 11-year-old boy was critically injured and five others were wounded yesterday, after a fight at the century-old African-American Family Celebration Day at the National Zoo erupted in gunfire.

Shortly after 6 p.m., witnesses and police officials said a fistfight between two groups of young males left children screaming and running to escape bullets. Police were still searching for at least one gunman last night, who was described by police as a black male, between 17 and 19 years old and wearing dark, baggy pants.

All the shooting victims were between 11 and 16 years of age. Hospital and law enforcement officials refused to confirm the condition of the 11-year-old boy who had been shot in the head, except to say his condition was "life-threatening and grave." He was taken to Children's Hospital in Northeast, D.C.

The Associated Press early in the night reported that the boy was dead. Later, the AP reported the boy was brain dead and being kept alive on life-support systems because he is an organ donor.

A 12-year-old girl shot in the torso remained in serious condition at Children's Hospital. The third victim there was a 14-year-old boy with a lower body wound in serious condition.

Two other boys, a 13-year-old and 15-year-old, were released last night from Georgetown University Hospital, with injuries to their legs. A 16-year-old boy remains in Washington Hospital Center, in stable condition.

A seventh person, an adult male, suffered a seizure and an 18-year-old pregnant woman apparently went into labor at the zoo. Neither was shot, but their injuries appear to be induced by trauma from the shooting incident, said Capt. Brian Lee, a spokesman for D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

Reports said at least two of the victims were shot at the zoo's visitors center and one was shot at the zoo entrance on Connecticut Avenue, a main thoroughfare in Northwest, D.C.

"There was an altercation in the zoo itself between two groups," Chief Charles H. Ramsey told reporters. "We've got multiple crime scenes both inside the zoo and outside."

Hours later, police still circled the zoo in helicopters. "We are looking into the possibility that it is gang-related, but we are not certain," Chief Ramsey said.

Executive Assistant Chief Terrance Gainer said police suspected a 9 mm handgun was used and roped off two shooting scenes one just outside the zoo entrance and the other about 300 feet inside the zoo.

One witness said the shootings came during a dispute between two groups of teen-agers. Another witness said someone threw a bottle and that a piece of glass bounced off her face, and the shots rang out shortly after.

The zoo, one of the District's most popular family and tourist sites, was crowded with thousands of people marking National Zoo's 2000 African-American Family Celebration Day.

"It was a lot of boys arguing," said Lisa Williams, who went to the zoo yesterday with 10 family members, mostly young children. "That's what it was, a big fight a bunch of teen-agers. I know four kids got shot.

"It doesn't make any sense. We come every year. Never will we go back again."

Other witnesses said the shooting occurred when a bottle was thrown from one group of youths to another. A piece of glass struck a young woman in the face, and then shots rang out, the witnesses said.

Police helicopters hovered over the zoo after the shooting as authorities sought a gunman. Police closed Connecticut Avenue for more than three blocks just north of the 2700 block. Curious and anxious residents stood on sidewalks in front of their apartment buildings, while joggers and bikers were detoured from their normal routes by yellow police tape.

A fire department hook-and-ladder was brought just after 10 p.m. so police officers could check the roof of one building.

Zoo visitors were shaken by the episode.

"I just heard some gunshots," said a 17-year-old boy who identified himself only as an employee of the zoo. "It just sounded like little pops," he said as he demonstrated how he ducked when he heard the sound. "There were a lot of people running."

A flower merchant inside the zoo who didn't want to be identified shook his head as he talked about the day typically marked by the family-friendly celebration marred by the violence. "It's for the kids. It's for the kids," he said.

"It shocked me that they would do something like this on family day," said 14-year-old Heaven Dinkins.

"I am not bringing them back. These are my grandkids. It is not safe," said Sandra Edwards, who was visiting the zoo with her grandchildren when she heard the shots and saw youths fighting.

"Our hearts are broken," said Bob Hoage, spokesman for the National Zoo. "This has been a happy day, Easter Monday, for over 100 years.

"It was an unofficial African-American family celebration. It was a wonderful, wonderful program."

"It's just a terrible, terrible tragedy," said Mr. Hoage adding that the zoo will be closed today.

At 10:30 p.m., some residents were still waiting to get back into their homes on Connecticut Avenue some having spent more than four hours outside, briefcases and dry cleaning in hand.

"It's upsetting but it's part of city life," said Vicki Finn, 37, who lives in an apartment building across from the zoo entrance. "I always go there on my day off. It's part of my neighborhood that's why I live here."

Miss Finn said the shootings wouldn't keep her away from the zoo, which is on the route of her daily jog.

Ciara Brady, 23, has lived in the District for about a year. The native of Ireland said yesterday's shootings were her first brush with crime.

"This is my first real experience of trouble in America," she said. "[But] it won't be a story I tell my mother, that's for sure."

The zoo, a unit of the Smithsonian Institution, is one of the most visited sites in the District, drawing 3 million local residents and tourists each year. It was established by Congress in 1889 as part of the Smithsonian Institution. It covers 163 wooded acres along Rock Creek in the heart of the capital.

Vice President Al Gore announced the shootings at a Democratic fund-raiser in New York City later, bringing gasps from members of the audience that included actress Lauren Bacall.

"We really have to have mandatory child-safety trigger locks, and photo license IDs for the purchase of new handguns," Mr. Gore told the crowd, sounding a frequent Clinton administration theme. The president and first lady were also at the fund-raiser.

• Gerald Mizejewski contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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