- The Washington Times - Monday, July 29, 2002

A D.C. fire cadet who had witnessed a shooting between two cadets in the winter and who had been the victim of a stabbing in May was fatally shot early yesterday morning in a street outside a Northwest nightclub.

Cadet Marcus Holness, 19, was one of 20 involved in a yearlong firefighting course paid for and sponsored by the D.C. Office of Personnel and the federal government as a form of affirmative action.

In a story published July 15, The Washington Times reported that firefighters questioned the backgrounds of several of the youths allowed into the federal program after one of them was charged in connection with the shooting of another cadet in January.

Cadet Holness was a passenger in a car driven by the cadet who police say was shot and wounded Jan. 1. All three were part of the special class of cadets that graduated two weeks ago.

Cadet Holness had not yet passed a physical agility test and was serving light duty at the department’s training academy because he had been critically wounded in the stabbing. A firefighter told police yesterday that Cadet Holness’ death is likely to be linked to that incident in May.

Police furnished no details yesterday of the stabbing, including the name of the person responsible.

Sources say the shooting yesterday occurred about 3 a.m. as a crowd of about 200 was leaving Club Abyss at 1824 Half Street SW. They say a man outside the club fired a weapon in the air, sending patrons running in all directions.

Cadet Holness, who was at the club with other cadets, was crossing Half Street running toward his vehicle when someone fired twice into his head at point-blank range and disappeared into the crowd.

The cadet, who was wearing fire department-issued shorts and whose department identification was found near his body, was transported by ambulance to George Washington University Hospital. He was pronounced dead there.

Police say a subsequent search of his car turned up an assault rifle and a duffel bag containing ski masks and gloves.

“It’s very disturbing and saddening when you have a young man who was determined to make a career in firefighting lose his life so abruptly and violently,” D.C. fire and Emergency Medical Services spokesman Alan Etter said.

“We’ll stand by his family and let them know we’ll help them out any way we can.”

Many D.C. firefighters had serious questions about the cadets’ level of maturity and the quality of instruction they received in the federal program.

In interviews with The Times they pointed to the case of the cadet who faces charges of assault with intent to kill stemming from the January shooting. Cadet Holness was a witness to that incident and might have even been the intended victim, fire department sources said.

According to court records, in the early-morning hours of Jan. 1, Cadet Holness was a passenger in a car driven by Cadet Michael Holmone, 21, when the driver of another car Cadet Michael McKnight, 21, pulled up beside it at a traffic light on Minnesota Avenue NE.

“A moment later, gunfire erupted from the defendant’s car,” court papers say. Bullets struck Cadet Holmone in the face and neck. Cadet McKnight then drove off.

Both Cadet Holness, who was not wounded, and the driver crawled out of the car and escaped.

D.C. Firefighters Association President Ray Sneed said, “First of all, we’ve got to be concerned about the family. He was a member of the fire department, and the pain is throughout the department.”

Lt. Sneed has openly criticized the cadet program for setting low standards in its selection of cadets and for not holding them to the same level of accountability as is done with firefighters.

“Once we deal with the pain and suffering, then we have to look through this program to determine what the problems are,” he said. He believes a cadet program can work but said that officials in fire administration made too many concessions to discipline and quality of training to receive the $365,000 in federal funds.

Just 12 of 20 cadets passed the program, and sources close to the class said several members, including Cadet Holness, failed the emergency medical technician component of the course.

When instructors began the process of removing cadets from the program, Fire Chief Ronnie Few stepped in and directed the instructors to work overtime with the cadets to bring them up to speed.

Mr. Etter said the shooting yesterday would have no effect on the training program. Another class began July 15.

“There’s no way you could extrapolate this and apply it to the other members of the cadet program,” Mr. Etter said. “This program was established to give kids that might not otherwise have it a chance. [Mr. Holness] was part of this program and part of that spirit.”

• Matthew Cella can be reached at mcella@washingtontimes.com.

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