- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2000

District of Columbia Police yesterday arrested and charged a 16-year-old boy in Monday's shooting spree at the National Zoo, as the condition of the most seriously injured victim improved.

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said Antoine Jones would be charged as an adult in Monday's shootings. Mr. Jones is set to be arraigned in D.C. Superior Court today, he said.

Officers from the 2nd and 5th districts went to a house in the 1200 block of Neal Street NE and found the suspect in the basement trying to hide behind a heater. He was charged with assault with intent to kill.

Officials had said the weapon used in the shootings was most likely a 9 mm handgun but none was found. Metropolitan Police Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer said he believed ammunition used in a 9 mm handgun was recovered.

"It was developing through the night, [but] this final suspect was the one that everything seemed to point to," said Cmdr. Peter Newsham of the 2nd District, adding that detectives received a lot of information called in by residents.

Meanwhile, the condition of the most seriously injured victim improved yesterday to critical. Officials from Children's Hospital corrected earlier police and news reports that an 11-year-old boy shot in the head Monday was brain dead but being kept alive on life-support systems for organ donation.

"He is responsive to care and his overall medical condition has improved," said Dr. Martin R. Eichelberger, director of trauma services at Children's Hospital, in a statement released yesterday. "I want to clarify that the 11-year-old male who sustained a gunshot wound to the head is not brain dead."

A 14-year-old boy with a bullet wound to the leg was released from Children's Hospital last night. A 12-year-old girl remains there in good condition after being shot in the back, but is expected to be released within a few days, Dr. Eichelberger said.

Three other boys with less-serious leg wounds were released yesterday from Georgetown University Hospital and the Washington Medical Center.

A seventh victim apparently went to D.C. General at about 2:30 a.m. yesterday with a gunshot wound to the right thumb. The 16-year-old boy was treated and released.

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey praised the force for the quick arrest.

"People are beginning to recognize … the quality of the people in our organization," Chief Ramsey said. "It was great police work. Detectives came together not only from [the 2nd District] but from all districts," Chief Ramsey said, and added that the arrest came quickly because public outrage fueled a lot of information from the public.

Law enforcement sources said the shootings may have escalated from fighting between two groups at the zoo throughout the day Monday. A bottle shattered near the gunman's girlfriend, prompting him to pull out a semiautomatic handgun and fire toward the zoo's exit as people were leaving, police said.

"It was basically a free-for-all going on at the zoo all day long. Who knows what started it," said a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation. "We knew most of the people [wounded] were not involved."

About 15 to 20 minutes before the shootings, National Zoo Police arrested two other juveniles for disorderly conduct.

"There were groups of kids from different areas," Chief Gainer said, adding that it appears neighborhood groups were feuding. Police still are not certain whether it involved youth gangs.

Shots were fired near the zoo's main entrance about 6:10 p.m. Monday, at the close of the National Zoo 2000 African-American Family Celebration, which attracted more than 20,000 area residents. The celebration is a century-old tradition that brings out black families on the Monday after Easter.

Nakisha Johnson, 17, saw a young man open fire after bottles started flying. She said the children who were wounded were caught in the middle of the two groups. "He was just shooting at the people he was fighting," she said.

Local and national leaders were quick to use the shootings in their call for gun-control measures.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams denounced the violence and called on Maryland and Virginia to work with the District to "keep guns out of the hands of our children."

"It's a challenge for our region," Mr. Williams said at a news conference yesterday. "This does speak to the need for a national gun-control policy."

"Instead of reaching for a bottle or a rock like in the old days, you are reaching for a gun," Mr. Williams said in a news conference yesterday. "All of us are too tired of talking about this."

At the White House, President Clinton expressed sorrow for the "devastating" and "senseless" shooting, as he urged lawmakers to pass hate-crime legislation.

"As we saw just yesterday at the devastating act of violence at the National Zoo here in our nation's capital, where seven young people were shot and wounded in a senseless act, our country still has too much violence and too much crime," Mr. Clinton said.

"I'd like to express my concern and support to the mayor and the entire community and, obviously, to the victims and their families. But whether it's a random act against children or a crime driven by hate, it should be obvious to all of us that we can do more and we must do more."

The 163-acre zoo, a unit of the Smithsonian Institution, is one of the most-visited sites in Washington, drawing 3 million local residents and tourists each year.

The popular tourist attraction was closed yesterday as police continued their investigation, but it will reopen today.

The National Zoo is placing wreaths on its Connecticut Avenue gates in sympathy for the victims, zoo spokesman Bob Hoage said yesterday. He also said the zoo will began discussing increased police presence at large events in the future.

At Monday's event, the zoo had doubled its police presence to 14 officers. The zoo has its own police force.

• Jabeen Bhatti and Andrew Cain contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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