DC police chief focused on finding little girl’s killer after violent weekend

After a violent weekend, D.C.’s police chief said he is singularly focused on just one case amid echoes of desperation from a community at its wits’ end, a frustrated mayor and grieving families’ call for him to take immediate action.

On Friday, 6-year-old Nyiah Courtney was gunned down crossing the street with her mom. On Saturday, a targeted shooting wounding three people outside Nationals Park forced the evacuation of panicked fans and captured national attention. And worth noting, they were not the only calls to 911 for violence in the city.

While Mayor Muriel Bowser has offered D.C. officers overtime hours to help quell the violence, Chief Robert Contee told WTOP what he needs to solve these crimes cannot be bought.

“I should just say this, people in the community have been calling in, have been providing text tips have been texting me personally, and I appreciate those. But we still need additional information,” Contee said.

While he waits on more tips, the investigation has progressed. Officers discovered the Saturn Ion sedan Contee said Courtney’s killers used in the drive-by shooting abandoned along Eastern Avenue in Northeast D.C. He confirmed it was burned, likely to destroy any evidence inside.

“Yeah, it is a challenge, but not impossible. And, and I’m optimistic and just hoping that we’re able to find some investigative lead,” he said.

The motive of the shooting is still unclear and Contee could not say whether it was gang-related. He said there was a driver and a shooter in the Saturn, but there could be more than two people involved in the shooting that injured five other people on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, including the girl’s mother.

Less than 24 hours later, panic spread through the crowd at Nationals Park, as fans heard the sound of gunshots.

“I think it is safe to go to a baseball game. I think, in that instance, we know now through looking through video that that was a very targeted shooting. They were trying to shoot specific individuals,” Contee said.

Two of the three people injured in the shooting were targeted, he said.

While he plans to put more officers around Nationals Park and investigate what led to the shooting outside of it, Contee said the national attention on the incident hasn’t shifted his focus.

“While the world may not be focused on Nyiah, I’m focused in on Nyiah and the members of the Metropolitan Police Department are focused in on bringing her case to closure,” he said.

There is a $60,000 reward for any tip that leads to a conviction in the girl’s killing.

Calling the events of the weekend tragic, Bowser published her letter to the city council on social media, alerting lawmakers that she has allowed more overtime for D.C. police officers.

“I write to notify you that I am directing the Metropolitan Police Department to use any overtime necessary to meet our public safety needs,” she wrote.

Contee noted his appreciation of the help, but that with staffing numbers at an all-time low, his department really needs more trained officers.

“With, you know, the additional overtime we’ll be able … to have officers working these hours. But again, I mean, that only goes, but so far, you know. I think that we need to make sure that we have a police department that’s properly staffed,” Contee said.

He is hopeful that the council will heed his perspective as it considers how to fund the police department in the future.

“To the extent that we have to pay officers overtime, you know, again, I don’t want to have to depend on that at every turn,” Contee said. “Officers working extended hours … leads into being overworked, leads into perhaps making poor judgments or bad decisions. I mean, I don’t want to be in that space, either.

“So I think that the answer is making sure that we have the police officers that we need to do the work that needs to be done in community.”

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Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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