- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2007

D.C. Council member Marion Barry remembers stepping off the elevator on March 9, 1977, and walking onto the fifth floor of the District’s City Hall. His next memory — the one etched forever on his mind — is the loud boom of resounding gunfire.

“I was hit right here, right above my heart,” Mr. Barry, an at-large council member at the time, said at a ceremony in the John A. Wilson Building yesterday. “It was a day I would never forget.”

Mr. Barry, now Ward 8 Democrat, was just one of the who’s-who crowd of the District’s political and press history gathered yesterday to remember the lives lost 30 years ago when armed militant Muslims took over City Hall, then called the District Building.

Maurice Williams, a 24-year-old reporter for WHUR-FM, was fatally shot that day as he stepped off an elevator. D.C. Special Police Officer Mack Cantrell was wounded in the incident and died days later.

Mr. Barry, who went on to be elected mayor four times, was hit with a shotgun pellet right above his heart. He narrowly avoided being killed.

The doctor “said I was just blessed,” Mr. Barry recalled. “God just saved me.”

The siege was the work of 12 Hanafi Muslims who also took over the Islamic Center and the B’nai B’rith International Center in Northwest. They held nearly 150 hostages for 39 hours before being persuaded to surrender.

Yesterday’s ceremony was officially called to rename the City Hall pressroom after Mr. Williams.

A plaque — similar to one that was lost when city officials moved their headquarters from the District Building to Judiciary Square and back — was affixed to the door of the small fifth-floor space, and another was placed inside, in memory of Mr. Williams.

Replacing the plaque was the personal project of WTOP radio investigative reporter Mark Segraves, and the ceremony was a chance for others to remember Mr. Williams, a former intern at the radio station who worked his way to a paid position covering D.C. government, as well as the events of that day.

“It’s safe to say it’s rare that a reporter, at least in City Hall, is killed in the line of duty,” said D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who read a proclamation honoring Mr. Williams, as did council Chairman Vincent C. Gray. “Maurice Williams was doing two things that seem routine to the press corps here today: covering a story, and stepping off an elevator.”

Former council Chairman Sterling Tucker said Mr. Williams was a favorite at City Hall and “one of the good boys.”

WAMU political commentator Kojo Nnamdi, who was news director at WHUR at the time of the siege, remembered Mr. Williams as an imaginative young man who enjoyed creating his own comic strip and often tried to tag along with the more seasoned journalists at his station.

“He was not only a good reporter, he not only had a good imagination, he was a great deal of fun to be around,” Mr. Nnamdi said. “He was truly a light in all of our lives.”

Family members of both Mr. Williams and Officer Cantrell also attended the event. Mr. Williams’ mother, Bertha, said she was glad to see the quest to honor her son come to completion.

“I’m glad something’s being done to recognize Maurice,” she said. “He loved his work.”

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