A Metro escalator
Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

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By the time Robert Cunningham stood up to a man holding a gun, two others had already been shot. 

Cunningham, 64, intervened as Isaiah Trotman pointed a gun at a woman in the Potomac Avenue Metro station Wednesday morning. Trotman and the woman had exchanged words, according to police, and when Cunningham stepped in, Trotman fired, killing him.

Police say Trotman then attempted to board a train, but “passengers were able to disarm him,” and police took him into custody when he left the train.

Before the fatal encounter, Trotman reportedly threatened, and later shot, a passenger on a Metro bus. A witness told the Washington Post that he watched as a man pointed a gun at another passenger’s head and told them to get off their cell phone. The passenger said “yes, sir,” and ran off the bus when it stopped at the Potomac Avenue station. The gunman, who police later identified as Trotman, followed the passenger and fired several shots, striking him in the leg.

The shooter then ran past the witness down the escalator into the station. “You be safe today,” the shooter reportedly said. “I’m the killmonger today.”

Police say Trotman then shot a person as they were purchasing a SmarTrip card before he encountered the woman and Cunningham. A fourth victim sustained a hand injury that police say was not the result of gunfire.

Cunningham was a mechanic in Metro’s power department and had worked for the agency for 20 years, according to Metro. Friends and acquaintances have described him as a “gentle giant,” a “good family man,” and as having a heart of gold.

The shooting spree is only the latest violent and deadly incident to occur around Metro’s rail stations and bus stops. 

On Dec. 7, an off-duty FBI agent shot and killed Troy Bullock on a Metro Center platform following a brief physical struggle. The following morning, a 15-year-old boy was shot in the thigh during an altercation at the Benning Road station. Two other bystanders—another 15-year-old and a 34-year-old woman—were also hit by gunfire. Police have arrested a 16-year-old boy, who is charged with attempted second-degree murder.

Last month, two children, ages 6 and 9, were hit by gunfire after stepping off a Metro bus on their way home from school. Police said a group of people assaulted a passenger on the 54 bus traveling on 14th Street NW. The bus stopped, and the fight spilled out onto the sidewalk as the children disembarked. 

And on Jan. 22, a 19-year-old was found shot and killed in the parking lot near the Southern Avenue Metro station in Prince George’s County. Police arrested a 17-year-old, who is facing multiple charges as an adult, including first-degree murder.

After Cunningham’s death, the Amalgamated Transit Union released a statement demanding WMATA improve safety on the system for workers and riders. The news release cited violent incidents in D.C. and Baltimore, where another ATU worker, Marcus Alsup, was killed while on duty this week.

“Our union demands that federal and DC Metro government officials bring the same sense of regret that they will display in the public mourning of this tragic, unnecessary death of our brother and actually do something that will help to prevent these tragedies from happening,” ATU’s international president John Costa says in a statement. “Transit workers cannot do their job, and passengers cannot travel on public transportation in fear of being attacked and assaulted.”

In the wake of these violent incidents, Metro GM Randy Clarke has repeatedly tried to assure Metro riders that the system is safe. He says the issue is not specific to the transit system. “Unfortunately, Metro is not immune to the violence that our country is experiencing right now,” Clarke said in a statement. “These senseless acts must be addressed together by our leaders and community.”

Mitch Ryals (tips? mryals@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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