- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2012

An explosion of gunfire outside two D.C. elementary schools Thursday morning left three teenagers hospitalized and sent parents scrambling to retrieve their children, who were locked down in the two Congress Heights facilities.

No arrests had been made as of Thursday evening, but Metropolitan Police Department officials said they were questioning two people captured after a chase and the recovery of a gun. Officials did not reveal the identities of the male victims or whether they were students at nearby Ballou High School, saying only that one was in critical condition and the other two had been shot in their lower bodies, but were listed in stable condition.

“It’s unfortunate that it would happen in front of a school, especially an elementary school, which is kind of the enraging part of this thing,” Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said at the scene of the shooting.

Police initially reported that the three shootings occurred separately, but later clarified that investigators think they happened in the 600 block of Alabama Avenue Southeast, in the District’s Ward 8.

About two hours after the 9:30 a.m. shooting, parents of students at the two elementary schools — Imagine Southeast Public Charter School and Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School — gathered anxiously behind a ribbon of police tape about a block away, waiting to retrieve their children.

Listing neighborhood problems that have involved Ballou students — including street fights and home break-ins — residents from the surrounding Congress Heights neighborhood said they were not surprised by the violence Thursday.

“It’s not a day goes by without a fight,” resident Patricia Smith said as she waited with relatives to pick up children from MLK Elementary, which was on lockdown after the shooting. “I’m scared to walk in my own neighborhood.”

Unlike when she was a student at Ballou, 23-year-old Kendra Hunter said, police and truancy officers have become more lackadaisical with enforcement of truancy laws. As a result, she said, students are regularly seen strolling through the neighborhood during school hours, some smoking marijuana or getting into trouble.

“Sometimes they do get picked up, but not as often as they used to,” Ms. Hunter said. “If truancy officers would have picked them up today, I guarantee this wouldn’t have happened.”

Though elected officials, including D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Ward 8 D.C. Council member Marion Barry, made a point to stop at the scene of the shootings, resident Tracy Johnson said officials need to do a better job of tackling the ward’s persistent crime.

“It always takes something drastic to bring them out, but they should be out here figuring out what to do to prevent this from happening,” she said, also referencing the 2010 South Capitol Street shootings that killed four and injured five. “When you see a ward that is being broken down like Ward 8, sometimes you need to put your priorities where it is really needed.”

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