- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

D.C. police are searching for the gunman who shot and killed a fire cadet outside a Southwest nightclub early Sunday morning.

Marcus Holness, 19, was leaving Club Abyss at 1824 Half St. SW at about 3 a.m. Sunday morning when he was shot twice in the head at point-blank range.

Police spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile said the shooting is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department's violent-crimes unit. He said detectives are interviewing witnesses to determine whether the shooting stemmed from an argument inside the club.

The club had just closed, and about 200 patrons were making their way out when an unidentified man fired shots into the air. Cadet Holness was among those running from the shots, toward a parking area, when a second man with a gun shot him in the head as he crossed Half Street.

Police sources confirmed yesterday that Cadet Holness was carrying a loaded assault rifle in his car.

Cadet Holness, who was wearing department-issued shorts and carrying his department identification, was one of 20 cadets involved in a yearlong firefighting course paid for through a $365,000 federal grant and administered by the D.C. Office of Employment Services as a form of affirmative action.

Cadet Holness was expected to graduate from the cadet program next month. The rest of the class graduated July 15, but he had not passed a physical-agility test and was serving light duty at the department's training academy because he had been critically wounded in a stabbing in May.

In January, Cadet Holness was a witness to a shooting incident involving two other cadets.

According to court records, in the early morning 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, according to court records.

In a development that has many old-school firefighters bewildered, the two other cadets made their way onto the D.C. Fire Department payroll earning $36,486 a year as city firefighters despite having been involved in the January shooting incident.

Cadet McKnight faces weapons charges and assault with intent to kill for his purported involvement in the shooting. Cadet McKnight's trial, which was scheduled to begin July 19, was delayed until Nov. 18.

According to program guidelines, a cadet can be terminated from the program for failing to "maintain proper conduct and attitude indicative of that expected of a career firefighter."

Cadets entering the program receive a $7.09-an-hour stipend during their year in the program. They are expected to pass Metropolitan Police Department and FBI background checks before enrollment. But fire department union officials have openly criticized the program for setting low standards in selecting cadets and for not holding the cadets to the same level of accountability to which they hold firefighters.

Cadet McKnight was also arrested in 1999 on charges of aiming a gun at police officers chasing a drug suspect. He dropped the gun after he was shot in the back by police, according to police reports. He was found not guilty of assault and weapons charges in that case.

Sources close to the class said several members, including Cadet Holness, failed the emergency medical technician component of the course, yet were allowed to graduate and become D.C. firefighters.

When instructors tried to remove failing cadets from the program, then-Fire Chief Ronnie Few directed the instructors to work overtime with the cadets to bring them up to standards.

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