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On the evening of Nov. 17, Harold Judge was heading north on the 4700 block of South Dakota Avenue NE, on his way to an electrician apprenticeship class. The window of his Ford Escort was down, and he was listening to radio coverage of sniper John Allen Muhammad’s conviction. Suddenly, he says, he heard this sound: “Clack, clack, clack, clack. Four shots.”
“It sounds like an automatic weapon but without much of the boom,” Judge recalls. “It was enough to get me ducking.”
But he ducked too late. Judge, 35, felt two sharp thumps to the back of his head. From the sound and the force of it, he figured he’d been shot at close range, from maybe 5 feet away. The gunman, he realized, was in the southbound car that had just passed hima white Cadillac Coupe de Ville.
The impact knocked Judge into the passenger seat. The Escort drifted to the side before Judge righted himself and sped on in a panic, feeling wetness on the back of his head.
For the next dozen blocksa good two minutesJudge assumed he’d taken two bullets, probably from a .22. “I was 100 percent sure I was shot in my head,” he says. “I thought I was dead and all the ‘Oh God’s and ‘Holy shit’s that go with it. It was bad. Real bad.”
Then Judge noticed a splat of yellow paint on his windshield. He had been hit, he realized, by a drive-by paintballer. One pellet had broken the skin at the base of his skull, but he would be fine.
Still, he was shaken. “That was some sick shit,” Judge says. “That was the most traumatic experience of my life.”
Multiple area residents have experienced something similar over the past six weeks. On Oct. 26, police received a complaint from a motorist who’d been shot in the hand with a paintball while driving down South Dakota Avenue NE. Later that day, someone fired paintballs at a group of girls on foot near the intersection of South Dakota Avenue and Kennedy Street NE.
It was the beginning of what would become an apparent shooting spree through such neighborhoods as North Michigan Park and Brightwood in Wards 4 and 5.
“This seems to revolve around South Dakota Avenue,” says Capt. Andrew Solberg of the Metropolitan Police Department’s 4th District.
Paintballs, dime-sized paint-filled plastic orbs that are used in simulated war games, seem innocuous, but they can actually be quite painful when they make contact. “Those things can put out an eye; in the woods when they do it, they wear goggles and helmets,” Solberg says.
Police officers, who use paintballs in training, say that they can leave persistent welts when they hit flesh. “I know how it feels, because I’ve been shot with one,” says 4th District Detective C. Timlick, who is investigating two paintball shootings.”If it hits bare skin, it’s not something to smile about.”
The bandit resumed the attacks on Halloween, hitting two girls walking near 4th and Jefferson Streets NW at about 9:15 p.m. “One girl was hit in the butt and thigh. They run to a stranger’s house, and a good Samaritan lets them in, and they realize she was hit with blue paint,” Solberg says.
Thirty minutes later, the paintballer hit another pair of girls, near the Fort Totten Metro stationone was struck in the arm, the other in the stomach.
The splattering reports stopped for about two weeks, only to resume with Judge’s shooting. Also on Nov. 17, at around the same time, a young woman jogging near 12th and Allison Streets NE, which falls under the jurisdiction of the 5th District police, was similarly hit.
Solberg says that as the number of attacks grew, officers at both the 4th and 5th Districts took note of the connection. “Part of what is happeningand this is with anything, any isolated event or twoit’s not until people say, ‘I heard about this the other night,’ that cops notice a pattern,” he says.
According to Timlick, at least three detectives are working on the paintball cases.
The most recent reported attack took place on Nov. 18 at about 3:45 p.m. A man walking north on 5th Street NE was hit with a paintball on his left arm by someone in a passing car.
Detective Timlick says a white Cadillac with tinted windows has been linked to the attacks.
“Two complainants gave police the same tag number, but they didn’t see who was driving,” says Timlick. “But a white Cadillac is mentioned on the report. The tag number goes to a Cadillac, so the report is consistent with the tag number.”
Timlick says the perpetrator or perpetrators may be juvenile. “The owner of the vehicle is not a juvenile, but whoever is doing this may not be working by themselves,” Timlick says. “It’s hard to drive a moving vehicle and shoot someone at the same time.”
The paintball attacks are the second round of nonlethal shootings in the District in recent years. In the summer of 2002, 19 people around the District and the Maryland suburbs were struck by metal darts, which were apparently fired from a blowgun. News reports at the time said some witnesses had seen a white Cadillac or Chevrolet around the crime scenes.
Timlick says he doesn’t know of any connection between the two series of incidents. “I can’t say, because I didn’t investigate that case,” he says. “I don’t want to speak too fast, because I don’t know if they are related.” CP