Orlando Carter, 20According to prosecutors, he was the ringleader. Photographs courtesy of US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. Next >>
Sanquan “Bootsie” Carter, 19Orlando’s brother. The fake-diamond bracelet was his. Next >>
Jeffrey Best, 21He was a talented athlete but had dropped out of school. Next >>
Lamar Williams, 21He supplied his friends with guns, then parted ways. Next >>
Robert Bost, 21He joined up with the crew after Orlando was shot. Next >>
The DefendantsThe men rented a Town & Country minivan for the South Capitol Street shooting after Jordan Howe’s funeral. Back to Start >>
Just after midnight, the silver Kia careered into the parking lot off Alabama Avenue. Bootsie hustled over.
According to Nate, Bootsie reached through the window and took the .380. He wheeled around and began patting the pockets of the partygoers, now gathered on the steps outside. Behind him, on the edge of darkness, Orlando appeared with the assault rifle. Jeff flanked him, shotgun in hand.
Tempers flared, and a shouting match broke out. Bootsie jumped back off the steps. “Y’all ain’t gonna gimme my bracelet,” he said. “F--- it. Go ham”—as in “go hammer.” The cool night exploded in gunfire. A spray of bullets raked the car where Jordan was sitting with his cousin Kalisha and the building behind it.
On the steps, 15-year-old Victor Kevin Martin was shot through the left leg. He staggered inside to his sister’s apartment and collapsed in the bathroom. Tavon Lambert, 22, who was hit in the calf and hip, cut through a hole in the fence and ducked into the alley behind the building. Ja’mya Wilkins sprinted into the building’s laundry room and hid behind a dryer. She ventured out a few minutes later to hear Andre screaming, “They killed Jordan!”
In fact, Jordan was still alive when Ja’mya reached the car, but he was losing blood fast. A bullet had ricocheted through his pelvis, severing an artery. Ja’mya cradled his head in her lap. “He asked me why everything was getting dark,” she recalls.
Jordan’s mother charged outside. “Don’t leave me,” Diane Howe told her son. “You gotta promise you not gonna leave me.”
Andre Morgan tried to drag Jordan’s body out of the car. Unable to do so, he fled the scene covered in his godbrother’s blood. He knew where the Carter brothers lived. “I wasn’t gonna wash my hands till I caught my vic[tim],” he says.
• • •
The shooters sprinted back to the Kia, and Nate drove them to the nearby townhouse of a Carter family cousin. “I’m gone,” Nate said as the others got out. He was still hoping to rendezvous with his girlfriend.
“You don’t need to go nowhere, ’cause the car is hot,” Orlando said. “You need to come inside with us.” They wrapped the long guns in coats, Bootsie pocketed the Hi-Point, and the boys snuck in the back door. They spent the night on the floor. Nate left before dawn, and the others followed soon after.
Two days later, on Tuesday evening, March 23, Orlando Carter was standing near Sixth and Chesapeake when Jordan’s half brother, Marquis Hicks, walked up on him with a chrome revolver, stuck the barrel in his face, and pulled the trigger. The first two chambers were empty, but the third and fourth were not. Orlando was shot in the head and shoulder, but instead of finishing him off, Marquis panicked and ran. Orlando survived, a terrible vengeance now burning in his heart.
Nate got a call from Jeff: “You need to get over here,” he said. “Orlando just got shot.” Nate picked up Robert Bost, a friend of Orlando’s who’d seen the attack. By the time they met up with Jeff, there was more bad news: Bootsie was in jail. He’d been picked up by the cops that morning. They needed to hide the guns and lie low.
Orlando greeted Nate and Jeff the next morning at his mother’s house with his arm in a sling and a bandage covering the side of his face. “Man, those niggas tried to do me in,” he said. It had to be Jordan’s people. “We gonna f--- that funeral up.”
The crew—which had grown to include Robert Bost—needed more firepower. They needed to rent a car. And they needed to divine the date and time of Jordan’s funeral.
That last piece of intelligence fell into place the following weekend, when Nate and Lamar picked up two girls “from the other side”—Jordan’s people—and took them to a Red Roof Inn. They stayed only a few hours, but that was long enough for Lamar to overhear a conversation about the upcoming service.
On Sunday morning, Orlando got a text from Nate’s phone: “Funeral on tuesday.”
• • •
Nate spent Tuesday, March 30, checking in with his probation officer and raising a little last-minute cash for the big night.
A high-school dropout with kids by two different women, he had driven deliveries for Domino’s for a while and worked the counter at Wendy’s. Mostly, though, he hustled and scraped by. When business was steady, he might pull down a couple hundred bucks a day.
Nate had grown up the youngest of four children. His mother was a correctional officer who raised her family on a single income. His father was a drug addict and vagrant.
Nate was no stranger to street violence. His older brother had been paralyzed at a young age by a stray bullet, and Nate himself was shot in the knee in 2004. He spent two weeks in the hospital and never regained full use of the joint.
As a teen, Nate tangled with his mother’s live-in boyfriend, a disciplinarian with a nasty temper. By the middle of high school, the beatings got so bad that he moved in with his grandmother. He dropped out of school after junior year to deal drugs full-time.
Nate’s grandmother’s health was failing, and when she passed away in 2002, an aunt kicked him out of the house. Rudderless and broke, he depended on lovers for a place to sleep. At one point, he bought a car at auction and lived in it for six months.
Prosecutors would later paint Orlando as the ringleader of the South Capitol crew, Bootsie as the hot-tempered instigator, and Nate as a hapless flunky, “without meaningful family ties, and in a constant search for affirmation.” Nate “mistakenly” thought he’d found that affirmation among Orlando’s crew—and once he was in, he couldn’t back out.
“You can call it afraid,” Nate testified. “You can call it whatever you want.”
• • •
Early Tuesday evening, a rented Town & Country minivan pulled up to the Seventh Street apartment of Martaraina Salazar, a young woman Nate was sleeping with.
Nate had been keeping Rob’s .45, Jeff’s Glock 17, and a bag of bullets inside the apartment. He tucked the pistols into his waistband, said goodbye to Martaraina’s two kids, and promised to pick up a bar of soap for her on the way home. He wouldn’t be gone long.
Orlando, Jeff, Rob, Lamar, and Nate headed to Lamar’s apartment, where Orlando told him to fetch the AK-47 and an extended clip. He wanted big firepower. As before, Lamar split ways with the crew after furnishing the weapons. Meanwhile, Orlando made a series of calls to a “mystery spotter,” whose identity prosecutors have never made public.
Orlando turned into the Wingate Apartments complex. “I’m gonna send my men in,” he said over the phone. Jeff and Rob slipped out of the car. It was beginning to grow dark.
The Wingate Apartments surround a grassy quad with a pool and playground; a small hill rises behind the rec center. It was on that hill that 17-year-old Tavon Nelson—Tatum to his mother, on account of being so chubby at birth, like a sack of potatoes—was standing just before sunset when two masked men entered the yard. Tavon was carrying a gun and, recognizing an armed robbery, reached for it as his assailants approached.
Nate heard a volley of shots and watched his friends come sprinting back to the van—Jeff first, followed by Rob. They were breathing hard and, inexplicably, empty-handed. Jeff’s Glock had gotten stuck in his coat, he told Orlando. He’d freed it just in time. “I hit his ass,” he said.
“Yeah, you hit him,” Rob said, “but I finished him.”
Tavon’s gun, meanwhile, was still lying on his body. Orlando was furious—the whole point had been to score another weapon. He had no choice but to peel out, though. In this part of town, the cops were never more than a minute away.