Shots fired near National Zoo, two adult males injured
WASHINGTON (WJLA) - While the rain played a role in dampening attendance at the National Zoo on Tuesday, so did the violence that took place about 24 hours ago.
"I was scared to come back to the zoo because so much happened here... I thought they'd shut it down forever," said visitor Tania Neal.
The zoo reopened this morning after abruptly closing on Monday due to gunfire – but many visitors on Tuesday were completely unaware of the violence that took place.
It was at the height of rush hour near the entrance to the National Zoo, and according to police, a group of as many as 50 people were headed south on Connecticut Avenue when somebody in the group pulled out a gun and suddenly opened fire.
The gunfire erupted towards the end of African-American Family Day, a century-old tradition at the Zoo on Easter Monday. Unfortunately, violence has also become a tradition with that particular day – including a shooting in 2000 and a stabbing in 2011.
Two teenage males are now left with minor injuries – one was reportedly shot in the left hand and the other in the left arm. Both are expected to survive, but many frequent zoo visitors still remain in shock.
"I heard three shots...many people were screaming and running into the drug store, and they locked the drug store,” said witness Pam Long, a pharmacy customer.
"Everybody dove to the ground – parents on top of their children, cops on the ground, weapons were being drawn..." described WTOP traffic reporter, Jim Battagliese. “It was complete chaos.”
"I got a phone call from my sister saying it was my nephew, and I lost it. I lost my mind," said Odessa Little.
Little’s 16-year-old nephew, Omar Ellis, was standing outside the Zoo’s Connecticut Avenue entrance with a group of Hyattsville friends – when he was hit. The next thing he heard was gunshots.
So Ellis did like many others around him – he ran immediately away from the scene. However, he noticed his arm was stinging, and when he looked down, he saw blood. He went into Dunkin Donuts to get water when he noticed he had been shot.
Police had a heavy presence in the area already, suspecting that something might happen. So did community activist Ron Moten, who was there trying to keep the peace between two crews from Hyattsville and Southeast D.C. that have an ongoing battle.
Little says her nephew was completely unaware of the ongoing feud:
"He didn't know who shot him, and he just started running once he heard the gunshot."
Now, as police continue the search for the suspects, some zoo visitors refuse to let the violence deter them from enjoying a day at the zoo:
"I'm not gonna let things like that keep me from going to certain events and having fun with my family and my daughter," said visitor Jose Paredes.
Zoo officials say they’re working with D.C. Police on a solution for the future, but there’s not talk of doing away with the event altogether – at least for now.
"You know, it's a wonderful tradition and it's terribly concerning that now we've had some violence associated with this particular day -- but what I can tell you and promise you is there are really great security professionals looking at this," said zoo spokesperson, Pamela Baker Mason.
The National Zoo's Visitor Center lifted lockdown hours after the shots were fired on Monday. There were thousands of visitors at the zoo at the time – including Keisha White, her two-month-old twins, and her mother.
They had heard the chaos and scrambled to find a way out:
"As we were approaching the entrance, I saw the yellow tape and said, ‘Oh my goodness, I hope nobody got hurt,’” said White.