A gunman opened fire on random victims from a sniper’s nest on the upper floor of an apartment building near an elite prep school in Washington, injuring four people before taking his own life as police burst into his dwelling.
Police said on Friday evening the suspect, Raymond Spencer, 23, of suburban Fairfax, Virginia, was initially identified from video he had posted on social media that appeared to show gunshots fired from the vantage point of an upper-floor window, with the misspelled label: “Shool shooting!”
The Washington metropolitan police chief, Robert Contee, told a late-night news conference the video “looks very much to be authentic” but it remained uncertain whether the footage was streamed live or had been posted after it was recorded.
Police had issued a bulletin with photographs of Spencer hours earlier saying they were seeking him as a “person of interest” in their investigation.
The school and other properties in the vicinity were placed under a security lockdown, with frightened students texting anxious parents as police mounted a door-to-door search for the suspect.
With help from eyewitness reports, police managed to pinpoint the gunman’s position to the fifth floor of a “particular apartment building” and ultimately “breached the location where the suspect took his own life”, Contee said.
Police seized more than half a dozen firearms, including several rifles, and large amounts of ammunition in the apartment, which had been arranged in a “sniper-type setup” with a tripod weapons mount, the chief said.
His intent was to kill and hurt members of our community”, but investigators had yet to determine a motive, Contee said, adding that the gunman acted alone.
He said the four victims were shot at random as “they were going about their business ... on the streets of the District of Columbia”.
Three people struck by gunfire were taken to area hospitals: a 54-year-old man and a woman in her mid-30s with severe wounds, and a 12-year-old girl wounded in the arm, assistant police chief Stuart Emerman said during an earlier briefing.
A fourth victim, a woman in her mid-60s, was treated on the scene for a slight graze wound, Emerman said.
Eyewitnesses said they heard multiple bursts of gunfire in the upscale Van Ness neighbourhood of north-west Washington next to the Edmund Burke School just as classes were about to be dismissed for the day. Contee said at least 20 rounds were fired.
One eyewitness told local television station WUSA-TV he heard a burst of rapid gunfire lasting about a minute, and saw a woman running out of a building who appeared to have been grazed by a gunshot, followed by other individuals who were apparently wounded.
The eyewitness said he saw other people on the street taking cover behind parked cars and pointing up to a balcony where they presumably believed the gunshots originated.
Video posted on Twitter captured the sound of bursts of rapid gunfire. One witness, identified by a local reporter as Austin Bittle, said he was in a nearby coffee shop when he heard more than 20 gunshots ring out in quick succession before seeing police officers racing toward the scene.
“It was madness. I mean, it’s just unbelievable,” Jade Moore, an Edmund Burke parent, told WJLA of the incident, which she said left her daughter huddled inside a classroom until police escorted her and other students to a safer part of the campus. “You know, you think they’re safe, but you’re not safe anywhere.”
Authorities said they had no motive for the shooting, which took place along a busy Connecticut Avenue corridor that is also home to several foreign embassies, the Howard University School of Law and a campus of the University of the District of Columbia.