The rattle of gunfire has become a familiar sound on Wheeler Road.
At night. In the evening. Before lunch. Six people were shot in seven days along a short stretch of one street in Southeast Washington. In front of a school. Next to a church. Beside homes.
It started over a two-hour period Feb. 23, when police sped to three shootings in which four people were injured. The latest burst of violence came Wednesday morning when a man was shot inside a Buick GS 350 car just a five-minute walk from his house.
"The shooter must've emptied his clip," said Carlos Quinones, a 59-year-old contractor who lives in Maryland and is renovating a three-bedroom home on Upsal Street, within shouting distance of Wednesday's shooting on Wheeler Road. "The shots came so fast I dove into the house and shut the door and didn't come out until the police came. I mean, things are crazy."
No one has died, though Wednesday's victim remains in critical condition, his injuries so grave that homicide detectives were assigned to investigate. A police officer was so close to the scene in the residential Congress Heights neighborhood that he arrived in time to see the suspected gunman fleeing, leaving a weapon behind.
Police have arrested two brothers in one of the Feb. 23 shootings but have not discerned a motive beyond a neighborhood dispute that is spreading bullet casings and the wounded from the 3300 to the 3900 blocks of Wheeler Road.
"There certainly is some kind of dispute going on," newly appointed Police Chief Peter Newsham told reporters Wednesday. But he lamented that "many victims have not cooperated" with detectives, "making it a little more difficult to get to the bottom of it all."
Violent crime in the District this year has dropped 20 percent compared with the same time last year, with declines in every category but assaults with guns. Those numbers are on the rise, with 121 this year, compared with 91 at this time in 2016.
Police say they are working to cut crime even more, worried about another year like 2015, when homicides surged 54 percent, to 162. The number dropped to 135 in 2016. So far this year, there have been 15 killings, down from 17 at this time last year.
The two political wards east of the Anacostia, where Wheeler Road cuts a path through single-family homes, sprawling public housing complexes and open fields, still experience the bulk of the District's killings.
Homicides in Wards 7 and 8 made up 54 percent of the city's total in 2015 and 52 percent in 2016. Nine of this year's 15 slayings have been in those two wards.
Former mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), now a council member for Ward 7, pressed Newsham at Thursday's oversight hearing at the Wilson Building. Gray said that while the number of deaths is down across the District, he does not see a huge difference in historically crime-challenged areas of the city.
"What are you going to do?" Gray asked.
"We will be over there, and we're going to get the illegal firearms off the street," Newsham responded, saying police seek to link recovered guns to other crimes and "hold people accountable for that behavior so when they come back out [from prison], they don't re-offend."
Newsham said that this year, just as in the past two years, "petty beefs" are the driving factors behind many killings. He said "getting illegal firearms off the streets" remains a key focus for police, as does targeting robberies, another contributor to violence.
"There is a small group of people that are terrorizing our communities," Newsham said at the hearing. "We as a city need to focus on those people. Grown adults are out there glamorizing carrying a firearm. That needs to stop. There is no glory in carrying a firearm. There is no glory shooting up Wheeler Road at 11 a.m. a couple blocks from a school."
The reason behind the Wheeler Road shootings remains elusive, even if the impact is very real.
One victim was a woman shot Feb. 27 while driving a sedan with three passengers who were not wounded. Police have not said whether all the victims were targeted.
Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) also attributed the gunfire to "ongoing neighborhood beefs."
He said, "We have to do a better job facing the social ills of our troubled youths and young adults. . . . Our residents don't feel safe."
White, a well-known activist before he won the council race last year, said more than 100 people walked in solidarity through Congress Heights in February, seeking improvements and lower crime.
He called for more police on Wheeler Road. "There is no way people should be shot on the same street over and over again," he said.
On Thursday, a D.C. police officer sat in a cruiser in a rutted parking lot of a discount liquor store, strobe lights flashing. At Wheeler Road and Upsal Street, police put up a portable flood light.
The two brothers arrested in the first of the three Feb. 23 shootings live on Wheeler Road, steps from the new light tower and the spot of Wednesday's shooting. A relative who answered the door declined to comment.
An arrest affidavit filed does not ascribe a motive, but it does quote a witness saying he was headed to see the suspects' mother to quash "the beef" when one of the brothers ran by him. The witness told police he saw that man "bend down, extend his arm and start shooting a handgun." One person was injured.
Hours later, three more people were shot nearby. The next shooting came Feb. 27 and the latest Wednesday.
A woman who has lived in Congress Heights for many years carefully opened her door; her initial frightened silence was the same reaction as with others approached in the neighborhood.
"Things are crazy, and we've done enough talking with each other," said the woman, too scared to give her name. "It's got to stop before it really blows up."
Correction: This story was changed to correct the spelling of council member Trayon White Sr.'s name.