Credit: Dan Rauch/Department of Energy & Environment

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Valor had somehow made it from the middle of the street to a patch of grass in front of a three-story brick apartment complex. The distance of about 30 feet was a long way for a young, bewildered, and physically compromised eagle. 

Dan Rauch had been looking for Valor for days when he got the call. A wildlife biologist for the District, Rauch had watched on camera—the “Eagle Cam,” to be specific—as the 3-month-old Valor tumbled from his nest at the U.S. National Arboretum. 

He found the raptor in a section of Northeast Washington once known as “Little Vietnam”— and not because it was an immigrant enclave, but rather because it was a war zone, of sorts. From January 1990 to December 1995, police recorded at least 49 homicides in the neighborhood, The Washington Post reported.    

“Back then, young kids would have probably rocked it,” says Mitch Credle, a retired D.C. homicide detective and local filmmaker who’s mentored countless D.C. kids while coaching them in basketball. “They would have thrown rocks at it. That was the atmosphere back then. No one would have called the right authorities, unless a parent saw it first.” 

More than two decades later, about a dozen neighbors old and new gathered outside to watch the unfolding drama of Valor the baby eagle. They wanted him to survive. 

As I read the rescue accounts, I was intrigued. As a city crime reporter for The Washington Post from 1989 through the late 90s, I’d been to Carver Terrace multiple times to cover shootings. Back then, all of the residents, as I recall, were black—the vast majority of them honest, nonviolent working-class to poor. But cadres of young gunslingers created a pervasive sense of danger. A community eaglet rescue in gentrified Carver Terrace? I wanted to learn more, so for the first time in more than 20 years, I grabbed my notebook and pen and rode into the neighborhood.

***

The seventh offspring of Mr. President and The First Lady fell off a tree on Thursday, July 26. Rauch saw the raptor the next day and coaxed him onto a small tree, but then couldn’t find him. 

The following Monday afternoon, Ellis Lane and a friend were riding through Carver Terrace when she noticed a large, dark-feathered bird in the middle of the road. Lane is white, she works at a hip H Street NE bar, and she and her friend, who is also white, were on their way to the Whole Foods on H Street NE in a Lyft. 

The bird was in the intersection of 19th and Summit streets NE, near the National Arboretum. Lane saw a couple of drivers slow down and drive around the bird. The Lyft driver got within about three feet of it and stopped.

“We were freaking out,” says Lane, 35. As the Lyft driver carefully maneuvered around the bird, her friend found the number for D.C. animal control. The situation became more urgent as they waited because “cars were going down 19th Street crazy fast” near the helpless bird, Lane says. She told an animal control official, “Yo, there’s an eagle in the middle of road here.”  

Before the Lyft drove off, Lane saw Valor “so scared of the cars driving by so close to him he finally flew-hopped his way directly into the doorway” of the nearby apartment building. The Lyft drove on.  

Rauch arrived minutes later. Neighbors began gathering outside. “I think people were curious,” Rauch says. “It’s a pretty stunning sight.” Most of the onlookers were black, but a couple of them were white. 

During the bloody crack era, from the late 1980s through the late 1990s, the only white people likely to be in Carver Terrace were cops, paramedics, firefighters, and reporters covering homicides. 

“It was a tough-ass neighborhood,” says William “Lou” Hennessy, who served as the homicide commander for the D.C. police for more than two years from 1993 to 1995, during the height of the crack era. For five consecutive years in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, the District clocked more than 400 homicides annually.

Carver Terrace, in a hilly section just east of the H Street corridor, is bounded by 26th Street NE on the east, the intersection of Maryland Avenue NE, Benning Road NE and Bladensburg Road NE on the west, the National Arboretum on the north and Benning Road NE on the south.

Lane, who lives in the Kingman Park neighborhood of Northeast, about a mile from Carver Terrace, moved to D.C. in the early 2000s, after the worst of the violence had abated.

Today the area is home to a mixture of longtime African-American residents and young whites. The demographic shift isn’t the only thing that has changed. As with other former D.C. combat zones, Carver Terrace has seen a dramatic decline in violent crime over the last generation. 

Two groups of Washingtonians who sometimes find themselves at odds in gentrifying neighborhoods—young whites who rent or buy on streets that were once devoid of non-black residents, and middle-aged to older working-class black residents, some of whom feel that they’re being pushed out by the newer urbanites—were outside trying to save an eagle together. 

As Rauch considered his options, Valor became agitated and made his way to a door that leads into the apartment building, where he spread his wings but was unable to achieve lift. Rauch was worried that Valor might make his way back to the street and get hit by a car, but he didn’t have with him the thick gloves he and other wildlife experts use to handle raptors. He did, however, have a couple of towels in his car.

He retrieved them, edged his way within a few feet of the bird, and tossed one of them to distract Valor. Then he threw the other towel over Valor’s head and quickly moved in, wrapping his arms around the raptor’s wings. 

The big bird squirmed. Worried that Valor would tear into him with his talons or nip him with his beak, Rauch asked if anyone had a dog crate. 

An elderly black man went to his nearby home and came back with a crate. Before Rauch could place Valor in the crate, an animal control officer with the Humane Rescue Alliance, the city’s animal control contractor, arrived in his truck. He had the right kind of gloves, took Valor from Rauch, placed him in his truck, and brought him to City Wildlife, a local wildlife rehabilitation center. Valor eventually went on to a bird rehabilitation sanctuary in Delaware, the Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research. 

For a week, experts at the rehab sanctuary tested and treated Valor, but he showed no appetite, and refused to be hand-fed or self-feed. On Aug. 7, Tri-State posted a message on its Facebook page saying that Valor’s lack of response led to the decision to humanely euthanize him before his condition deteriorated. 

“We learned yesterday afternoon that Valor had tested positive for West Nile virus; we had suspected that this was the cause of his symptoms,” the message said. “Infection with this virus is not always fatal in birds; however, after seven days of intensive supportive care, Valor remained slow to respond to stimuli and displayed no signs of improvement.” The virus is spread by mosquitos.

Rauch sees cause for optimism in Valor’s story. “It was a community effort which reflects the Carver Terrace of today—multiracial, multigenerational,” Rauch says. “The rescue and response was possible due to the synergy of the current residents.”

Ruben Castaneda is the author of S Street Rising: Crack, Murder and Redemption in D.C.